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  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Lionsgate

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Violent thrills outstrip surprises in a Finnish spaghetti war film with shades of Tarantino

Like its lethal protagonist, a near-wordless Finnish ex-soldier harassed into acts of eye-popping violence by a Nazi death squad as he carries a saddlebag of gold across the Nordic tundra, this fun but throwaway action-thriller is a reminder that while it may have disappeared for a while, the Quentin Tarantino knock-off can never truly be killed.

In the right hands that’s not necessarily a criticism, and writer-director Jalmari Helander is a proficient handler of this kind of mythical but gore-splattered material. So, the chapter-headed structure, inventive grindhouse violence (put it this way: one unlucky Nazi receives a headshot… with a landmine) and the random truckload of vengeful female prisoners mostly feels like the good kind of QT derivative. It’s just a pity that the sparse English-language script doesn’t add any snappy dialogue or meaty characters – Tarantino’s secret sauce – to the mix. 

Tarantino would definitely have come up with a better title (‘Once Upon a Time… in Nazi-occupied Lapland’?). ‘Sisu’ is a Finnish word that loosely translates as ‘white-knuckled courage’ – and exhibiting it here is Jorma Tommila, star of Helander’s giddily nasty anti-festive movie Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. He plays Aatami Korpi, a prospector-turned-survivalist who gets embroiled in a lethal game of cat and mouse (and dog – Korpi’s trusty mutt is almost as enterprising as him) with an SS officer and his company of grizzled Nazi goons when they steal his gold.

Watching a bunch of Nazis get offed in grisly ways provides some midnight-movie thrills

Headhunters’ Aksel Hennie is great as the sadistic, vacant-eyed Nazi whose greed and sense of an opportunity to escape his country’s imminent defeat leads him to fatally underestimate his foe. His fast-dwindling platoon pays a gnarly price for that hubris, especially in that amusingly over-the-top minefield scene. ‘How many mines did we use?’ he asks his second-in-command as squad members go up in smoke. ‘All of them,’ comes the answer. It’s one of a few memorable early sequences whose gore-splattered humour is given widescreen heft by cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos’s precise framing.

But that early tension slowly dissipates when it becomes apparent that only an act of God could see off the furious Finn – and even then, God would need serious back-up. Korpi is nicknamed ‘The Immortal’ for a reason. So while watching a bunch of Nazis get offed in a variety of grisly ways offers some midnight movie thrills, the stakes only get lower and lower. Helander’s hero is a kind of real-life Winter Soldier – and who needs sisu when you’re basically a superhero?

In US theaters Apr 28 and UK cinemas May 26.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Jalmari Helander
  • Screenwriter:Jalmari Helander
  • Cast:
    • Jorma Tommila
    • Jack Doolan
    • Aksel Hennie
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