It’s the revenge thriller that took the TIFF Midnight Madness program by storm last September. Lionsgate, which acquired “Sisu” shortly thereafter, is opening it in theaters nationwide this Friday (the same day the studio is releasing the Judy Blume adaptation, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. Talk about going after two different audiences!)
Sisu is a Finnish word that essentially means ‘to never give up’. And it’s the motto that main character Aatami Korpi lives by. The story is set in 1944, with the end of WWII in sight. Four years earlier Korpi lost his home and family to the Soviets who invaded Finland, triggering the Winter War. He became a ruthless commander and, eventually, a one-man, indestructible death squad.
Following his service he intended to retire to a peaceful life mining gold with his pet dog. But the evils of war would find him again, in the form of retreating Nazi troops. They make the mistake of provoking Korpi. It’s a mistake they will regret.
He’s The Equalizer, Liam Neeson’s “Taken” character and John Wick rolled into one. And he’s determined to get himself and his newfound gold to the bank.
The trailer for “Sisu” portrays it as an all-out splatterfest… an ultra-violent ‘guilty pleasure’ action film. There’s definitely blood shed, and a handful of graphic killings and disturbing images. But the violence is not extreme, especially in comparison to other recent war, revenge or horror films (or any recent Quentin Tarantino pic).
And the tone of “Sisu” is appropriately serious. I applaud writer/director Jalmari Helander for not being tempted to go for a lighter, more jovial (i.e. Tarantino) vibe. This allows us understand and appreciate Korpi’s mission. 64-year-old Finnish actor Jorma Tommila is highly believable in a challenging role, and the makeup work on his body, which is pushed to the limit time and time again, is quite good.
“Sisu” does get off to a bit of a tepid start, even with an amped-up score. But Helander’s artistic vision prevails throughout. Some non-traditional flashbacks and a female empowerment element elevate the overall package.
This is sophisticated madness – worth viewing any time of day.