SISU is a Finnish word that doesn’t have an exact translation. After watching writer/director Jalmari Helander’s film SISU, I can see why it’s difficult to pinpoint what the word actually means – grit, guts, courage, strength (and the like) – don’t sum it up. A great deal is to be said about determination and grit and how even the most everyday folks can find superpowers and superstrength when faced with life-and-death challenges. One man’s sisu plays out in SISU as a violent and vicious struggle to hang on to his gold and stay alive.
Jorma Tommila (as Aatami Korpi) shows true sisu when he goes up against Nazis at the end of WWII. After finding gold, Korpi encounters a group of Nazis, killing everyone they see. Oddly, one man, SS Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie), lets him past, assuming German soldiers further down the road will hang him. Korpi, determined to keep his treasure, singlehandedly kills several Natzis in an impressive showing of grit and power. Helldorf hearing the gunfire, leads his convoy – including a tank and two trucks loaded with armed men and female Finnish hostages – in a chase to steal the gold and kill Korpi. Even after Helldorf learns that Korpi has singlehandedly killed 300 Russian soldiers, he defies orders and continues his pursuit.
Helander offers up a grindhouse-style popcorn film that amazes, surprises, and stuns the audience with an insane level of brutality. A fierce, bloody battle ensues that rivals films like ‘Kill Bill,’ and ‘Django in Chains’ in terms of viciousness and graphic bloodletting. One has to suspend belief as Korpi endures multiple gunshots, cruel beatings, hanging, and other such ruthlessness – anyone of these would have killed a normal man. Korpi is as superhuman as any man can get, and it takes some “oh, hell no,” moments and a bit of forehead-slapping to buy into Korpi’s ability to endure literal torture. It doesn’t matter how insane it all is – the movie ROCKS.
Tommilla impresses as Korpi, hardly speaking a word and kicking ass. Helldorf, too, is exceptional as the heartless, ruthless SS commander bent on destroying Korpi. Both are despicable people, but we root for Korpi because he is a sole warrior who wants to put the past behind him. Helander gives the audience an intense and wild ride, one that is so graphic I turned away a few times. Still, I loved watching SISU and am giving it a resounding five stars!