Movie review: Disappointing 'Sisu' spoils pleasure of seeing Nazis' demise

Aatami (Jorma Tommila) fights a batallion of Nazis himself in "Sisu." Photo courtesy of Freezing Point Oy
1 of 5 | Aatami (Jorma Tommila) fights a batallion of Nazis himself in "Sisu." Photo courtesy of Freezing Point Oy

LOS ANGELES, April 24 (UPI) -- The creators of the English language Finnish film Sisu, in theaters Friday, think if the bad guys are Nazis, the audience will automatically be pleased by those Nazis' creative deaths. That's not enough and doesn't excuse Sisu for its other sins.

Sisu gets off to a really bad start with a title card that explains "Sisu" is a Finnish word that cannot be defined, but means courage. So, apparently, it can be defined. That wasn't so hard.


In 1944 Lapland, Aatami (Jorma Tommila) discovers gold. Aatami encounters a battalion of Nazis remaining in Finland and manages to slaughter many of them by himself.

There is pleasure in seeing Aatami defeat Nazis with their own weapons, but Sisu quickly introduces two unpleasant elements. First, there is violence toward animals.

Writer/director Jalmari Helander does not need to have the Nazis shoot at Aatami's dog to establish that they're evil villains. The dog survives, but it's no fun seeing it in peril, let alone Aatami's horse.


A land mine blows Aatami off his horse. That gratuitous cruelty toward animals negates any pleasure in seeing Nazis meet their deserved end.

John Wick was controversial for making the inciting incident the murder of John Wick's dog. Even if that's a bridge too far for some viewers, John Wick doesn't show the dog's exploded innards.

At least Aatami finds a way to fend off a German shepherd without hurting the dog, who didn't ask to be a Nazi attack dog.

Helander adds misogyny into the mix. The Nazis also keep a group of women prisoner and make two of them walk in front of a tank through a minefield.

The women don't have any meaningful dialogue until an hour into the film, when one hypes all of Aatami's badass credentials.

The women help Aatami in the end, and it's supposed to be a satisfying comeuppance that they turn the tables on the Nazis. Helander gets no credit for empowering the women when he couldn't even be bothered to give them characters in the first hour of the film.

The Nazis also learn through their superiors on the radio that Aatami was a commando who killed hundreds of Russians for Finland. Still, they know they're losing the war, so they want to take his gold and disappear before they can be prosecuted for war crimes.


Sisu begins with a battalion large enough that Aatami can mow down plenty of Nazis throughout the film. He also has enough skills to make him a one-man army, but still has some vulnerable moments.

Even if one is on Sisu's wavelength, it still slows down the Nazi killing to save the rest of the battalion for the finale.

Speaking of John Wick, there is a difference between that franchise's artful violence and Sisu's exploitation of graphic and gratuitous killing. Films like The Northman or Drive also make a much better case for cinematic violence.

Helander also divides Sisu into chapters. The chapters do identify specific parts of the story, but why divide a lean, 90-minute narrative at all? It's not an epic novel just because there are chapter titles every 15 minutes.

Fortunately, there are plenty of quality action movies available that fans need not settle for drek like Sisu. Whether one prefers more lighthearted adventure or this brand of ultra violence, there are superior options in theaters or on streaming.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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