In 1967, The Dirty Dozen rocked movie theaters as a pure action spectacle. The story of twelve men conducting a covert exercise likely to end in death scored across all audiences. It grossed over ten times its budget and ushered several iconic action stars into the mainstream. In many ways, Sisu is the perfect spiritual successor. Director Jalmari Helander tells the story of a lone wolf forced into a confrontation with Nazi looters. Sisu features stunning action setpieces, plenty of blood, and arguably the best sound work of the year.
Sisu follows a hermit, Aatami (Jorma Tommila), as he searches for gold. To his surprise, he strikes a massive claim. As he returns to town to cash in, he passes looting Nazi soldiers fleeing from the advancing Ally troops. Yet when they discover what he holds, they begin hunting Aatami. While he may look like an easy mark, Aatami’s past life as a soldier was built on blood and wrath.
Helander never holds back an impulse in Sisu, and the film is better for it. Every possible image one could imagine finds its way into the text, and more often than not, it punctuates the end of a very violent montage. The sound work and special effects coincide to create a symphony of war. It makes Sisu one of the most violent films of the year.
If Helander storyboarded Sisu before shooting a frame, it would make sense. Every image of violence and death feels premeditated. Yet it borrows from the American and Italian Western imagery. These themes and styles play exceptionally well in the Finish wilderness. While man versus nature disappears through most of this story, Helander perfectly utilizes the landscapes and shelled ruins.
The third collaboration between Tommila and Helander proves to be their most interesting. Tommila’s performance carries the film, despite rarely making more than guttural screams. Yet the way Helander shoots Tommila, the nonverbals take on extra importance. As Tommila actively pushes through the physical strain and then carries himself as an injured man, he also displays fierce determination in every moment. It’s a wonderfully physical performance that never creates a false note.
Finally, the real treat in Sisu comes from its action. Bombs go off, horses explode, and Nazis meet their maker in the most creative kills. It’s grotesque in many ways, but if you can jump on board its grimy tone, it is endlessly fun. This is pure spectacle, pure action, and pure adrenaline for 90 minutes. Even in its only “slow” moments, a man struggles for survival. Sisu‘s theory going bigger at every moment makes for one of the most bombastic films of the last decade.
Sisu is a lean, mean action flick with plenty to enjoy. The thin plot and cartoonish depictions of its villains might rub some the wrong way. Yet there’s something exceedingly enjoyable about watching Tommila hunt these men down one at a time. A good old-fashioned revenge flick, this one is well worth your time.