War is horror, horror is war and stories of countries such as Finland coming face to face with the intensity and terror of combat are hardly told. But there they are, rooted in history and fatigued fighting like the rest of them. Sisu then brings up the self-preservation directly needed in a time of rationing and uncertainty. It presents Aatami (Jorma Tommila), a legendary commando hoping to retrieve what is rightfully his, gold, against Nazis who took it from him. It does not get simpler than this obvious back-and-forth of good and evil. Director Jalmari Helander struggles with the basics brought from that, more because he uses the Continuation War as background fodder than anything which could hurt his audience or push them toward thinking about the dread.
Undefinable the title may be, the intentions of Helander’s work here is, certainly, definable. Panning for gold in terrain which usually looks wonderful yet here looks drab and disinterested, the intensity Sisu offers is strange. Like the man himself, audiences must pan for gold within Sisu. Some of it is charming and well-constructed in an old spaghetti western type of way. Chapters, the isolation of a protagonist. In solitude, we learn of a man digging for gold. He even has a horse. Nice one. It all goes to spoil soon enough though, rot tends to feature when Nazis are about the place, tanks and all. Sisu is stuffed full of what should be creative, considered scenes. Dozens of planes flying overhead, breaking the silence of nature, it is a contrast war movies appear more and more reliant on.
Give it a half hour though and the horrors of war and the wildcard scenarios soon appear. Seasoned veterans of war throwing themselves around the place, grabbing onto the undercarriage of trucks and displaying enough grit to produce a series of thrilling, if expectant, moments. Sisu, for all its bedraggled horrors and war crimes, does play around with the area, although it jumps the shark enough times to display it has no particular understanding of the real world. To its credit, it is only falling in line with the booming action and dynamics of the borderline impossible. But Sisu makes its breaks of form, the hanging man sticking his foot into nails, a bit of a tired moment, one of many which audiences are expected to chow down on for it is needed to progress the story.
Either way, Sisu is there and although it has trouble pacing itself in those mad moments, it does well to hold onto the charms of the action genre. Burnt-down buildings and hanging men make for interesting set designs but its story, which sees the bloodied, elderly corpse pulled apart like some spitting Robocop, is hard to convince of. He picks away at wounds which would see most people pass out from shock, stitching his way back into action with barbs and sticks. Whatever the case, whether it is possible to perform self-surgery with gasoline, it matters not to the realism Sisu tries to suspend. Do it, and then carry forth with a terrifying display. Do not suspend it and give a bleak shrug of the shoulders. That is not warfare. A seasoned veteran is not enough of an excuse to give Sisu the chances it so frequently demands.