Helander’s Mighty Action Thriller Is Epic & Inspirational

May 5, 2023

Sisu is a Finnish word used to describe extraordinary bravery and resilience during extreme levels of adversity. With no true literal equivalent in English, who better to showcase its meaning on screen than Finnish director and screenwriter Jalmari Helander. In his feature, Jorma Tommila stars as Aatami Korpi, a Winter War veteran and gold miner living in the wilderness of Lapland. When Korpi uncovers a life-changing amount of gold, he must traverse through the minefields and escape Nazi platoons to cash in his hefty prize. In all its nonsensical glory, Helander’s historical action film is full of surprises and grit. Sisu is a beautiful story about pure determination while containing epic action sequences for superfans of the genre.

Told in seven chapters, Helander’s script is as mighty as his titular character. We first meet Korpi living in isolation on the fields of Lapland with his dog. With the echoes and destruction of war surrounding him, he spends his days and nights searching for gold in the land that once breathed life. Helander’s storytelling is sensational and captures a beautiful devastation in this early chapter. His camera highlights picturesque landscapes that reflect an ugly history, yet it centers on one man’s remarkable journey of strength and survival. These competing elements are often told in parallel, but their juxtaposed reflections often accentuate the inspiring sentiments that beautifully manifest themselves as the story progresses.

Related: Sisu Cast & Character Guide

Aksel Hennie as Bruno Helldorf and Jack Doolan as Wolf in SISU

Chapters 2 and 3 continue the epic storytelling by ramping up the action to usher in a compelling story that energizes us to no end. At this point, Korpi has found his gold, and now he must survive minefields and run-ins with Nazi soldiers to cash in his discoveries. The first bit of dialogue comes in at around the 11-minute mark, in which commanding officer Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) prevents his soldier from killing Korpi as “he’s riding to his death anyway.” Little do they know that what’s to come is copious amounts of Nazi carnage. Here, Helander amplifies his attention to detail through his action sequences. There are brutally violent scenes and smart fight choreography that is as gritty as it is entertaining.

There’s a point in Sisu where the entertaining feature veers into outlandish territory. Oftentimes, sequences become a bit unrealistic and are accompanied by a dramatic score. These moments come at times in which it feels as if all hope is lost for Korpi, as he’s faced with a losing battle. But of course, this is a film about undeniable resilience and tenacity. Without these elements, the film would still have worked, but it would lose the magic it possesses simply for taking itself too seriously. Helander pairs these scenes with extended and alternating close-ups of characters in battle, reminiscent of duels in old westerns. While effective for demonstrating the adversity Korpi faces, it gets a little silly at times. Still, there’s no denying the compelling nature of the film overall.

Jorma Tommila as Aatami Korpi in SISU 

With very little dialogue throughout Sisu, it may be difficult to imagine the film being as compelling as described. But thanks to an easy-to-follow script with Helander’s direction, consider the movie an epic fantasy worth watching on the big screen. There’s a third component that holds together this entire film — that’s Jorma Tommila. He is nothing short of brilliant as Aatami Korpi, using the power of face and body acting to convey his emotions. Tommila was assigned roughly three lines, but he manages to command the camera with a dominant presence that will stick with you long after witnessing his tremendous performance. If I had to choose a reason to rush to the theater to see this film, it would be Tommila.

Full of epic bloody action sequences and an underlying inspirational message of persistence in its script, Sisu is a great film. Helander brings together his best of filmmaking by capturing beautiful landscapes, brutal action, and a heartwarming tale of survival that would entertain audiences of all types. Sisu isn’t a complicated story to understand, nor does it take itself too seriously, but that is what makes it a compelling watch from beginning to end. It’s a simple story about the power of pure determination and will, and it’s certain to leave you fully captivated from the minute lead actor Jorma Tommila appears onscreen.

Sisu was released in theaters on April 28. The film is 91 minutes long and rated R for strong bloody violence, language, and gore.

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