Producer: Petri Jokiranta Director: Jalmari Helander Screenplay: Jalmari Helander Cast: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo and Onni Tommila Distributor: Lionsgate
Fanciers of grindhouse cinema could do a lot worse than Jalmari Helander’s off-the-wall one-man-against-the-odds blood-fest, set in the waning days of World War II, when the Nazi forces previously allied with Finland were compelled to retreat from the country in the face of the advancing Soviets. Utterly ludicrous but undeniably entertaining, if at times rather solemnly paced, it’s like “Die Hard” set on level ground, except when it takes to the air for a final confrontation that ultimately draws a page from “Dr. Strangelove.”
Stone-faced Jorma Tommila plays Aatami Korpi, a rugged, bearded Laplander in late middle age panning for gold in the wilderness streams and finding some nice nuggets. Scooping them into a bag, he mounts his horse and, accompanied by his cute dog, starts on the road to Helsinki. But he encounters a German platoon—a tank, some trucks (one filled with female Finnish prisoners, including Mimosa Willamo as unbowed Aino) and infantry, all under the leadership of SS Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) and his loyal second-in-command Wolf (Jack Doolan).
After some of Helldorf’s men discover the riches Aatami is carrying, they decide to kill him and steal the loot, but he turns the tables and disposes of them. Now Helldorf pursues the Finn to a mine field, where his horse is blown to bits but he survives, escaping only by detonating another mine. It appears a unique instance in which Aatami miraculously evades certain death, but Helldorf learns it’s not the first: before learning of his family’s death, Aino reveals, Aatami had been a legendary guerrilla fighter against the Russians, killing hundreds while earning the nickname of “The Immortal” for his ability to survive.
But despite orders to abandon the pursuit, Helldorf doubles down. Over the course of the ensuing chase Aatami will survive self-immolation, as well as being nearly drowned, knocked unconscious by a grenade, and even hanged. But he also arranges a bleak end for Wolf before facing off against Helldorf, who’s stolen the gold and disposed of his tank commander Schütze (Onni Tommila). Their confrontation occurs on a plane whose pilot Aatami has shot before forcing his way aboard as it tries to take off. Naturally, he also survives the resultant crash. So does his dog, as the ads for the movie pointedly promise to prospective viewers.
All of this is completely ridiculous, of course, but so were the “Die Hard” series, most of Liam Neeson’s action pictures and loads of other movies (and multi-chapter serials, with their myriad cliffhangers) since the dawn of cinema. The question is whether the absurdity is pulled off with sufficient panache, and in this instance it is. Grizzled Jorma Tommila is a formidable presence as Aatami, and Hennie a thoroughly detestable villain; the rest of the cast is reliable, and the dog a delight. While Helander’s direction occasionally goes a bit slack, its steadiness mostly works to advantage, generating real suspense even in implausible circumstances (the hanging, for example); and the bursts of action are nicely choreographed, shot and edited by Kjell Lagerroos and Juho Virolainen respectively. Juri Seppä and Tuomas Wäinölä add to the effect with a score that explodes during the bombastic sequences while aiding the somber mood elsewhere.
“Sisu”—a Finnish word for unyielding courage and determination—wins no points for credibility, but earns quite a few for its willingness to go completely over-the-top. And rest assured, the dog doesn’t die.