“SISU” – Don’t poke the bear [MOVIE REVIEW]

Jorma Tommila as Korpi. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

“Sisu” is an untranslatable word in Finnish meant to imply courage beyond imagination in the face of extraordinary danger. It’s that, but as this movie will show, it’s so much more. But first, a word of warning. This is an unbelievably violent movie, but so violent, like a Quentin Tarantino film, it becomes cartoonish in its excess and thus, is watchable. Take my word for it. I’m very squeamish and steer clear of horror and blood. I can’t say I’m proud that I enjoyed this movie, but just remembering how outrageous everything was brings a smile to my face.

The Nazis. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

It is the waning months of World War II and the last remaining Nazi troops have been ordered to abandon their base near the Finnish-Russian border and head to Norway. As they rumble past in their two tanks and trucks filled with munitions, supplies and captured Finnish “comfort girls,” they come across Korpi. Korpi, a self retired commando in the Finnish army, has been prospecting and has hit a vein of gold. His rucksacks are filled to brimming with the rocks as he walks purposefully toward home.

Training their guns on the Fin, they discover his stash and gleefully take aim. And so begins the violent cat and mouse game that I have dubbed Superman vs. the Super Race, as Korpi runs for shelter and begins lobbing landmines at his assailants. 

Of course the German Commandant and his troops are villains without redeeming features. Rapists, murderers, greedy bastards, there aren’t enough exaggerated expressions to define them. The commandant is willing to risk everything to get his hands on that gold. He knows, as does everyone else, that a retreat to Norway does not lessen the inevitable defeat, something that will leave them all poor without recourse in an occupied Germany. But no matter what he throws at Korpi, the stalwart Fin survives and comes up with new ways to torture and kill his pursuers. 

Director/writer Jalmari Helander has created a western-style movie where Korpi is the resourceful homesteader defeating the Apaches out to kill him. Better yet, think of that scene (actually as laughable as it was thrilling) in John Ford’s classic “Stagecoach” where it seems like John Wayne single handedly kills the attackers with just a reloadable rifle. Now reverse your thinking and it’s an heroic Native American guarding his home and treasures against the evil marauding cavalry. 

This hyper violent movie with the exaggerated premise that one inventive, determined strongman can defeat an army (or at least a well-armed division) will have you guiltily roaring your approval at Korpi’s ingenuity. Even better, “Sisu” has a killer (literally and figuratively) ending that will have you smiling if not outright laughing. 

The “comfort” girls. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Kudos go to Helander for coming up with this outrageous idea and directing it assuredly with no breathers in the action. Kjell Lagerroos’ cinematography of the Lapland locations is outstanding and Helander owes a great many thanks to editor Juho Virolainen for finding the right pace to complement the director’s needs.

This action movie was never designed to highlight the acting chops of the participants. Jorma Tommila as Korpi is excellent as he uses his laser-focus eyes to convey meaning to his actions. His wounded body is as much a part of his technique as those orbs. The Nazis, all of whom speak English, are, to a certain extent, out of a Mel Brooks movie. You can almost hear him saying “Nazi Schmatzi” as the evil SS Obersturmfürer Bruno Helldorf played by Aksel Hennie goes on his killing spree, sacrificing his own men in his quest for the gold. And not left behind are the “Comfort Girls” who come to Korpi’s rescue at a critical moment.

Is “Sisu” high art? I think not but I’m no longer embarrassed to say I really liked it. Forewarned about the excessive violence, there is much to enjoy about this tale of David vs. Goliath. Come to think of it, “Sisu” doesn’t rival the violence found in the Bible. So sit back, go with it, find a guilty pleasure enjoying it, and wait for that killer ending.

In English and Finnish with subtitles.

Opening Friday April 28 at the AMC Century 15, the AMC Grove 14 and the TCL Chinese Theatres + IMAX, among others in Los Angeles County.



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