There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had in watching one man violently dispatch dozens of evil Nazis, and the WWII action film “Sisu” is a brutal, bloody delight. This midnight movie from writer-director Jalmari Helander embraces a comic book mentality that’s balanced with gory kills, a hearty dose of wit, and a potent story about courage and determination.
With the second world war coming to an end, a solitary prospector (Jorma Tommila) in the Lapland wilderness of Northern Finland searches for gold with his last remaining companion: his dog. The pair cross paths with a band of Nazis who have left a path of scorched-earth destruction in their wake. Seeing an easy target, the Nazis steal the man’s large bag of gold. What they didn’t bargain for is that the man they’ve pissed off is no ordinary miner. The prospector is an ex-commando who is the stuff of legends, and he becomes a one-man death squad who will do anything to get his gold back. Unfortunately for the thieves, this means killing every single Nazi that comes into sight.
The film’s title comes from the Finnish concept of “sisu,” a white-knuckled form of courage and unimaginable determination in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s a kick-ass idea to build a story upon, and Helander creates a myth that seems both outrageous yet plausible. The film is divided into chapters, each adding another level of depth to the narrative (including an unexpected and rousing piece that celebrates female empowerment). Viewers looking for nonstop action may find the film to be slow in parts, but the character development is well done (in reality, the pacing is almost perfect).
Helander understands the real reason you’re here, though: to watch a good old fashioned Nazi massacre. Once the violence starts, it does not disappoint. There are shootings, stabbings, hangings, immolations, and all manners of complete annihilation. Body parts fly, men are crushed by tanks, and a horse explodes, just to name a few. As the kills pile up, the cheers for the body count of dead Nazis grow louder.
“Sisu” is a skillfully crafted action film that’s a ton of fun. There’s plenty of bloody killing, but also an absorbing dramatic arc that quietly builds into a deafening crescendo.