Friday, April 28, 2023

Movie Review: SISU (2023)

Reviewed by: Josh "The Merc" Raynor

When it comes to war movies, there are plenty to choose from, especially ones that take place during World War II. But very few are as off-the-wall bonkers as this one. Sisu puts an almost fantastical twist on the war genre, without going so far that it loses the audience in disbelief, and gives us impactful punch after impactful punch of wild, Nazi-exploding action.

Going into this, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. During the promotion of the film, I saw someone refer to it as “John Wick meets Mad Max: Fury Road,” and I gotta say, they weren’t wrong. It was that description that drew me into wanting to see this film, and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

For those unfamiliar, Sisu tells a simple story of a prospector who’s just trying to get some gold with his horse, his faithful dog (who always seems to be able to find him), and his trusty pickaxe, but runs into a group of Nazis on their way out of Finland. But this is no ordinary prospector, as he has an almost mythical past, and what happens next is something that none of them were expecting that day.




Jalmari Helander, the brilliant mind behind the incredible 2010 film Rare Exports, brings us a unique WWII story, set in a part of the war that is rarely, if ever, mentioned, as the Nazis are being forced out of Northern Finland, and scorching the earth as they go. His ability to focus in on a smaller setting and really exploit that landscape is what makes his films, like this and Rare Exports, truly engaging. We may not know much about the main character, but we feel for him every step of the way. We want to see ourselves in him, and vice versa, as his strength of will and determination is unmatched.

And that’s where the title of the film comes into play. We learn right off the bat that the word “Sisu” is an untranslatable Finnish word, that means “a white-knuckled form of courage and unimaginable determination.” Essentially, an unwavering will to go on, even when all hope is lost, and there seems to be nothing left to live for. This is something that we all wish to have. I know I do. It’s so easy to just lie there and give up when life throws you down and kicks you in the gut, but our main character here never once does that. Whether he’s been shot, hung, blown up, or even set on fire, he never gives up. There’s even one scene where the man known as “Koschei” slits the throat of a Nazi soldier under water and breaths in the air from his lungs, and whether or not it could actually be done, it was epic to see. It’s an amazing display of strength and ingenuity that could’ve so easily become hokey and unbelievable, but Helander does such an amazing job of balancing the fantastical with the realistic.

However, all of that would have been for naught if not for the amazing and extremely subtle performance of our main star, Jorma Tommila (also from Rare Exports). With barely any dialogue, Tommila manages to convey a myriad of emotions with just his facial expressions in such a brilliant way. We see him experience fury, disbelief, sadness, fear, determination, and more without any words spoken. And he’s not without his weaknesses, which makes him a much more compelling character, as we see it takes a bit of good luck to keep him alive. The only downside was that we didn’t get much backstory for this guy. However, seeing as he’s meant to be more of a figure of myth and legend, it made sense that we didn’t. This myth is even strengthened by a group of imprisoned women that know of this legend and help to fill in some of the blanks. And their belief in him pays off beautifully as Koschei empowers these women and gives them their freedom and agency back.

Something else I’d like to mention is the beautiful cinematography throughout this film. Sisu is a gorgeously dirty movie that perfectly balances the bleakness of war with the somewhat exaggerated gore of a bloody, almost Tarantino-esque, grindhouse film. There are moments where it’s almost too much, but then they pull back and rein it in to keep us all on board.

And I would be doing a disservice to this film if I didn’t talk about the incredible score. Of all the things I expected to enjoy about this movie, the score wasn’t one that I was particularly thinking about, but then they went ahead and knocked it out of the park with a very unique, almost western vibe mixed with an epic Nordic feel. It’s subtle at times, and in your face at others, but always manages to perfectly set the tone and evoke the necessary emotions.

Overall, Sisu is a tight, 91-minute film that manages to give the audience a non-stop, action-packed, thrill ride that will stick with you for a long while after seeing it.


The Merc’s Score: 9/10



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