‘Sisu’ Review: As Good as Bloody Gold

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Sisu, a revenge story that places a lot of brutal violence in the hands of an unstoppable former Finnish solidier going after Nazis who want his gold.
User Rating: 8

I’m glad to see Finland getting in on the violent action scene. In a year that’s already provided an all-timer with John Wick: Chapter 4, there’s nothing wrong with making room for Sisu. Writer/director Jalmari Helander has already found himself in a comfortable genre space with his films Rare Exports (the bloody Santa Clause movie before Violent Night) and Big Game (featuring Samuel L. Jackson as the President, stranded in the wilderness). His latest effort, bringing together First Blood and The Road Warrior in a gloriously brutal WWII action flick, has proven to be something special in the gonzo entertainment sort of way.

Set in 1944, during the Lapland War, which amounts to Nazis in Finland laying waste to the area, a veteran soldier (Jorma Tommila) is spending a day panning for gold. He finds success in the form of a rich gold deposit, filling his bags all the way. On his way back to town, the prospector encounters a Nazi platoon led by a ruthless SS officer (Aksel Hennie). Once they discover the man’s gold, they attempt to sieve it from him. This does not go well, as the prospector was once known as a deadly fighter referred to as Koschei, or “the Immortal.” However, this doesn’t stop the Nazis from going after the man, turning the story into a back-and-forth series of events and leaving a lot of carnage in the Immortal’s wake.

Simplicity is key here. Sisu is 90 minutes and uses the time to its advantage. There are about 15 minutes spent setting up the man’s gold situation before the first Nazi body drops (having been stabbed through the head by the Immortal’s knife). The rest of the film focuses on the chase, whether it’s seeing the Nazis unsuccessfully try and catch the Immortal or getting to a point where the tables have turned, and he’s going after them. Whatever the case, this film is pushing itself along with ease thanks to all the killer scenarios it allows the audience to witness.

Structured like an exploitation film (with a lot of nods in the direction of the Spaghetti Western), complete with chapter titles in colorful, bold fonts, while not acting self-aware, Helander and his team have crafted a film that wants the audience to very much enjoy the extremely violent action. As always, using WWII Nazis as a common enemy means there’s no remorse for what’s taking place. They kill innocents, keep others hostage in their trucks, and try to take this guy’s gold. There’s nothing to like here, and watching the Immortal cleverly find ways to dispose of the enemy shows the creativity this film has in mind.

One sequence involves a minefield, smoke to mask the area, and the Immortal’s skill at tossing these mines at unsuspecting targets. Another setup involves the Immortal’s ingenuity in staying alive while trapped underwater thanks to the handy throat of a man whose neck he just slashed open. Okay, that may sound disgusting, but trust me, there’s an artfulness to how we see these vicious acts go down. More traditionally speaking, I also quite enjoyed how a tank was utilized here, once again showing what a versatile vehicle it is for both close quarters and long-range action.

Another key to Sisu’s success is finding ways to make the Immortal vulnerable. The challenge is clear, as the man never speaks and is literally dubbed immortal. Even with dozens of men around him, how does one get at one who supposedly cannot die? This is where the film attempts to find balance in how grounded it needs to be. The Immortal takes a level of damage that would make Rasputin blush. Still, enough is being done in the film’s conviction to make it seem tolerable as he pushes himself to get better through makeshift healing processes. On top of that, other touches, such as a pet dog and other innocents, become involved without the film holding back on where it needs to go in staying true to its harsh ways.

If the question emerges regarding how to feel about all of this or if there’s any deeper meaning, I once again must point out the universal nature of having Nazis as the villains. Sure, one can speak of pride for Finland and how people should stand up to bullies, but these are all general ideas. Sisu feels very clearly set on providing a wild, adrenaline rush by way of a bloody WWII B-movie made with a good dose of skill. It accomplishes this quite well, with enough splashy ideas on display that speak to just how great things can be when removed from the trappings of larger franchises. Helander may not be rewriting any rules with his over-the-top action movie, but he’s clearly doing what he can to let everyone have a bloody good time while they try to keep their eyes on the golden prize.

Sisu opens in theaters on April 28, 2023.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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