REVIEW: Sisu (2023)

Sisu is pretty good. That’s the most generic way possible to sum it up (outside of a raised or lowered thumb), but it’s apt. This is a fun, lean action movie that does most of what it does right, and it’s got some neat filmmaking and an interesting lead character. But watching it once feels like enough, whereas I want to watch action movies like John Wick or Bullet Train (to stick with modern examples) again.

As World War II winds down, Finnish prospector Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) strikes it rich when he finds a large cache of gold. He packs up the gold and walks towards the nearest town with his dog, but he runs into a platoon of Nazis who’ve been raping and pillaging the land. When they learn of Korpi’s gold, they hunt him down, intent on taking it for themselves. But Korpi has a past, one that earned him the name “Koschei” from the Russians: “The Immortal.”

It never gets more complicated than that premise. Sisu is a straightforward action flick, a 90-minute-long conflict between a man who wants to be left alone and the marauders who refuse to do so. It’s quick, with bursts of brutal violence throughout, but there are slower sections that follow Korpi through the hellish landscape as he tries to be on his merry way or that show the Nazis plot their hunt and contemplate the end of the War. The pacing balances the two well, and the movie never gets boring or feels like it’s being rushed (unlike some other recent films I’ve seen). The action is satisfying, with some good kills keeping us entertained. There are a few fights where the camera moves a bit too much, but it’s rare enough that it doesn’t sink the movie. There are also some beautiful shots of the landscape, making Sisu look like a Western in parts.

The slower scenes are devoted to character work, and at that, Sisu is surprisingly effective. Korpi is the epitome of the strong, silent type; he barely speaks throughout the film, and I mean almost never. That means his character is built through his actions. When he first encounters the Nazis rolling through his country, he simply walks past them. He doesn’t care about them one way or another; he just wants to live his life and collect the money he earned mining the land. (This is alluded to in a great shot of him looking at his food and tools while German warplanes fly overhead.) But when he’s threatened, or the Nazis try to take his gold, he becomes a one-man wrecking crew, making anyone who tries to take what’s his pay. He’s not after revenge, though, and it’s clear he would leave them alone if they left him alone.


But they can’t, and the Nazi soldiers who torment Korpi help define him in their own actions and motivations. They’ve been spending their time in Finland taking whatever they want because they can; they have guns, bombs, tanks, and planes, and the country folk don’t. They’re the antithesis of Korpi, thugs who think everyone else’s property is theirs. They also have no honor, and it’s through this that we discover Korpi’s moral code. It’s demonstrated in the different ways they treat animals or how they interact with people who have nothing to do with their mission. You get the contrast in their motivations as well, with Korpi wanting only what he’s earned while the Nazis wish to take his gold to avoid what they’ve earned through their monstrous actions.

“Sisu,” we’re told at the beginning of the movie, is a Finnish word meaning sheer determination and an unwillingness to give up, no matter how hard the obstacles in your way. This applies to Korpi, and as with his other attributes, it’s shown through his actions rather than the words he doesn’t speak. He doesn’t make it out of most of his confrontations unharmed, and he has to do some difficult and painful-looking things to survive. But he won’t allow himself to lose, to let these thieving invaders take his gold, and he puts himself through a lot of hell to win. His survival tactics are wince-inducing at times, but they paint a picture of a man whose grit won’t leave him to die. It makes Korpi an easy guy to root for, and I’m impressed that they – and star Jorma Tommila deserves a lot of credit – accomplish this with an essentially silent protagonist.


The villains, while effective in helping define Korpi, aren’t overly interesting beyond that. I like their motivation for going after Korpi when it’s clear they would be better off letting it go: they know that their side is about to lose World War II, and when they get home, they’ll probably be hanged for their crimes against humanity. But if they get ahold of a ton of gold, they can hightail it to another country and escape the noose they’ve forced on so many innocents. It’s better than it could have been, and I’m glad Sisu goes a little further than “Because they’re Nazis,” but individually, they’re just there to be evil. It sure is fun watching them get what’s coming to them, though.

And that’s what Sisu is all about: satisfying bad guy deaths from a cool hero who won’t give up. The tone of this film is pure grindhouse, with the action and violence occasionally getting to ridiculous levels. That’s not for everybody, but if you like that kind of thing, it’s a lot of fun. The characters – the ones who speak, anyway – all speak English, and they’re vulgar and irreverent, never seeming like high-class gentlemen the way the Nazis were in older World War II movies. Funnily, this is probably a more accurate depiction of them, even if it feels like it isn’t. But the effect is to let the audience know they should sit back and have fun with this one. If you want a comparison, Sisu reminds me more than anything of a Mad Max movie, with the Nazis traversing a destroyed land with a might-makes-right attitude until they mess with the wrong guy.


Sisu doesn’t do much more than that. It’s not a thinker, it’s not thematically or subtextually rich, and while Korpi is well-drawn and unique (nowadays) in his silent persona, he works best as a one-off. It’s not something I think I’ll want to revisit much, if ever, but it’s a good time for a movie night.

Sisu (2023)

Plot - 7
Acting - 7
Directing/Editing - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Action - 8



Sisu is an entertaining action movie with an impressively strong, silent hero, but it’s not going to stay with you or demand repeat viewings.

Comments (3)

April 29, 2023 at 2:39 am

One of my favorite action movies is the very underrated Face/Off (I rewatched it this week). Have you ever seen that?

    April 30, 2023 at 7:41 pm

    Ohhhhh, yes. I adore Face/Off. I saw it in the theater when it first came out, and many times since. Modern cinema needs a villain even half as iconic as Castor Troy.

      May 2, 2023 at 12:17 pm

      Just seen the movie and I have to be honest. I ended up liking a lot more than you. I will certainly go back to watch it again. But maybe that’s cause I love landscapes here plus i have a thing for WWII movies.

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