Don’t mess with this gold prospector.
“Sisu” is a movie that plays like a low-budgeted version of “John Wick” meets “Inglorious Basterds,” because it uses no names that American audiences would know and, simultaneously, it offers the same kind of fun carnage as those films. I’m told the premise is inspired by “First Blood” and a Finnish military sniper named Simo Haya, whose nickname is “The White Death,” and fought in the Winter War against the Soviet Union. And this guy killed over 500 enemies during it.
That’s why “Sisu” uses a guy like Atari Korpi (Jorma Tommila), who is a former Winter War vet, and lives in the Lapland wilderness during the Lapland War. He becomes a prospector, who digs up gold, only for him to be tracked down by a Nazi platoon, led by their ruthless leader Bruno Heldorff (Aksel Hennie from “The Martian”). They all threaten the wrong guy, because he manages to kill them, one by one. At lot of his choice of carnage feels like they were inspired by “Shoot ‘Em Up,” especially the way he throws landmine bombs at them, but they’re fun to watch.
Atari Korpi has cheated death so many times, you wonder how he can survive a hanging. Either because this guy has a strong neck or the hanging post is faulty or the movie wants him to survive or he’s something kind of a God. It’s crazy and it makes no sense, but you know he wants to be some kind of a John Wick from another dimension. And he was also given the nickname “Koschei,” which means “The Immortal.” Okay, that makes sense.
The “Inglorious Basterds” tone also comes in when a group of women are held prisoner by the Nazis in their trucks, and manage to find the right time to fight back. They sure know how to get where they need to go, and when to turn the tables on them.
Writer/director Jalmari Helander (“Big Game”) makes “Sisu” with some good laughs, a lot of carnage, and inspiration from many other movies, including the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. He also opens the film with a message about how “Sisu” can’t be translated, but from what I have read, it be described as “stoic determination, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness.” And believe me, Koschei has a lot of that. I like to consider him a silent character, because he doesn’t speak until the very end. We learn about his life through his expressions and what the bad guys learn about him. There’s a movie coming out later this year called “Silent Night,” which is directed by John Woo and starring Joel Kinnaman, but features no dialogue. I like to see where that film will lead into.
Would the film be better off without the English language, especially the way they use “Mother F***er?” Maybe, maybe not. But we should see “Sisu” for its ability to live up to what people want in action movies these days, inspired by you know what, and how it chooses its words and violence. The film is R-rated, so you’re expecting people to blow up or get stabbed and shot, but you also expect it to have different character studies. And I doubt Koschei can survive a real life hanging, but he does here.