Saturday, May 20, 2023

Sisu: The Finnish John Wick

Sisu is a Finnish action movie that was internationally released recently. It is directed by Jalmari Helander, whose previous movie is Big Game, which is a decent Finnish adventure movie starring Samuel Jackson. I was underwhelmed after watching it years ago, believing it to be a Hollywood production. When I later came to know that it is Finnish, its ranking in my mind went up by several positions. I realised that Sisu is directed by the same guy while the end titles played. Then I also found out that the actor who played the main character of Big Game, Onni Tommila, has a role in this one, and the hero of Sisu is Joma Tommila, who is his father.

It's 1944, and the Germans are taking a beating in World War II. In Finland, Nazis are advancing and scorching every Finnish settlement on their way. Not interested in war, an old man is digging for gold in the wilderness. When he unearths a gold deposit, he collects the nuggets in a bag and leaves for the nearest town. On the way, he encounters a Nazi platoon, and when they find out about the gold, they try to confiscate it. He retaliates by taking lives in pretty ingenious ways. Germans realise that he is the legendary ex-commando Aatami Korpi, also known as the immortal, who has a reputation for refusing to die. Soon they will see a practical display of that reputation.

The pattern of Sisu is the exact same one that some of the best action movies have developed well before: a lone man getting pissed off and taking on a formidable group of adversaries. From First Blood to John Wick, there are many movies where a bunch of bullies try to pick on an innocuous person only to realise that they tried to bite off a lot more than they were able to chew. Sisu contains all the familiar action movie tropes of its predecessors and is basically a by-the-numbers action movie. It's basically a one-line plot, which is elaborated into an hour and a half-long display of machismo, something that was rampant in Hollywood movies decades ago but not that common to find these days.

Sisu employs a threadbare style of moviemaking that is very efficient and effective in telling its story. Conversations are sparse, character development is nonexistent, and the plot is very simple. But all these are compensated for by stylish action set pieces, sharp thrills, and a retro-exploitation vibe. The movie contains many scenes of graphic violence that are expertly placed for maximum impact. My favourite is a scene in which the protagonist saves himself when hanged on a noose by hooking his wound on a protruding iron bar.

The movie defines its characters very strongly through a simple act or a piece of dialogue. The Nazi villain is not just a maniac, and he needs gold to bargain for his freedom after they lose the war. This motivation, expressed in terse dialogue, makes a good impact on the plot without diluting his villainy. Similarly, a captive lady gives a sign of her strength of will when she volunteers to comb a mine field. The mysterious past of the protagonist is also conveyed by snippets of information reaching us from many sources. Thus, the movie manages to convey more with very little exposition.

Sisu is a run-of-the-mill action movie that is very minimalist but still manages to display a personality that many of the CGI-heavy, assembly-line behemoths of Hollywood lack. For an action aficionado, Sisu will definitely be a breath of fresh air by reminding them of the simple days when Bruce Willis or Stallone managed to punch their way out of situations.

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