Synopsis: When an ex-soldier who discovers gold in the Lapland wilderness tries to take the loot into the city, Nazi soldiers led by a brutal SS officer battle him.
Stars: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, Onni Tommila
Director: Jalmari Helander
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Among the various ways movie studios tried to market their films on BluRay back in the day was to introduce a new way of watching the movie: Maximum Movie Mode. That could mean any number of things, depending on the studio. It could mean you’d watch the film while a video of group commentary played in a small corner of the screen. Or you could branch out at various points to making-of documentaries without losing your place in the movie. You could also have your BluRay player send you an order of Buffalo Wild Wings and a six-pack of beer when the film was half over. OK, that last one is a lie, but I bet it wasn’t far off. I never got into this viewing experience – it was just too distracting.
A film like Sisu already exists in its own version of Maximum Movie Mode, so I couldn’t fathom how anything could be done to make the experience of watching it more eye-popping or blow-your-hair-back than it already is. This is the type of film you wouldn’t dare put on after midnight because you’ll be up way past your bedtime, desperate to know how it ends. (Yep, that was me.) A take-no-prisoners splatterfest that goes big, goes home, gets a shovel, and then hits you over the head several times with it. It’s an insane treat to take in and could easily be a buzzy hit in the making.
The end of World War II is drawing near, and the Nazi soldiers exiting Lapland know it. Heading home to what is undoubtedly their doom from a country that seeks to punish them for their crimes against humanity, they are slowly returning and exercising final acts of brutal power while at it. Happening to cross paths with what looks like a simple miner on horseback with his dog, they have no idea they’ve run afoul of Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), an ex-soldier dubbed Koschei (The Immortal) because he refused to die.
Korpi has risked the trek through this land to get to town for a critical deposit: chunks of pure gold he found on his land that are worth a fortune. He just must get them past the greedy Nazis that figure if they had the gold, they could use it to bargain their way out of being executed. Under the direction of high-ranking Nazi official Bruno (Aksel Hennie, The Martian), the ungainly troopers are sent in to forcibly take the golden treasure from the guy who has yet to speak a word. One man against an army of soldiers. Sounds easy. It’s anything but as Korpi takes out an entire fleet of combatants one by one by one by one, in gorgeous, brutal form.
The beauty in Jalmari Helander’s film is not just in how the violence is so over the top that it becomes comical but because Helander establishes the winking tone of the kind of movie he’s making from the start. It’s a Finnish Spaghetti Western, a David and Goliath story recast as a violent tale of critical survival. Our hero (or what we believe is our hero – who knows what he’s done before we meet him) receives massive injuries as well, grotesque maladies that would send any of us fleeing but only motivates him further to penalize them for their desire to steal what is not theirs.
As the man of few words (he only speaks once in the entire film), Tommila is superbly cast. Believable as a man who has already seen his fair share of death and tried to put it behind him, it is out of necessity, not want when he has to spring back into action. The more he’s pushed, the harder he pushes back, hoping he will be left alone. Hennie is also good, building on a rote part and making something bigger than a simple Nazi officer out of it. I liked Jack Doolan as Bruno’s sidekick, too, and though women’s roles are underdeveloped, Mimosa Willamo is memorable and delivers the movie’s two greatest scripted moments of dialogue.
Divided into multiple “chapters” and benefitting from a wild but pitch-perfect score from Juri Seppä & Tuomas Wäinölä, I kept wondering what Quentin Tarantino would think about this. It feels like a liberal pull of style from Tarantino’s preferred comfort zone of filmmaking, and I wouldn’t doubt he’ll be commenting on it at some point. I’d also hedge a bet that once this is released and a few more important eyes are on it, Helander will get the Hollywood red carpet rolled out for him. You can count on the fact that based on the quality of Sisu, Helander is the one that’s truly struck gold.