When watching a movie like this, it is probably easiest to think of the films that this Finnish production calls to mind. It features an indestructible hero, much like John Wick, who may often be down but is never out. It is like films like Mad Max: Fury Road, in that it features women in a post-apocalyptic sort of world rising up against those who would exploit them and righting those wrongs with bloody violence. It is like Inglorious Basterds in that it offers a violent Tarantinoesque portrayal of World War II history, though without the level of historical revisionism that this film offered. It is by no means a perfect film, and its daring portrayal of a hero of exceedingly few words is a risk in that this film does not leave the chance for very many words to shape our viewing experience, but rather focuses our attention on action. Still, if you like seeing Nazis die in creative ways, there is a lot to enjoy here. This is by no means a film that is going to lecture at you about the patriotic nature of the lone hero as wilderness prospector and epitome of Finnish resilience, but instead shows that heroism in action.
It is likely that many people watching this film, especially outside of Scandinavia, will be lacking the historical context in which this film operates. Although the movie is not at all heavy-handed in its portrayal of the historical context that informs the action, with the exception of its immensely hostile portrayal of Nazis, to which few people will object, this film takes place at a critical period of Finnish history. In 1944, the Finns made an advantageous armistice that allowed them to remain free of Soviet domination and pursue a path of neutrality between the Soviet Union and the West, a period of neutrality that was only recently abandoned in the face of Russian aggression towards Ukraine. As part of the terms of this armistice, the Finns were forced to turn against the Germans who had been their reluctant allies in the attempt to avenge defeat in the 1939-1940 Winter War that had been the result of Soviet aggression against Finland, which is alluded to in this book. Smartly, for this film’s intended audience, the film portrays its titular vengeful hero as having been a prolific killer of Soviets through what is said about him, even as the film shows him being a prolific killer of Nazis, and this evenhandedness will be appreciated by those of us who hate both Nazism and Communism with equally intense fervor as I do.
If the potent strain of Finnish nationalism that this film shows will not be to everyone’s tastes, those who do appreciate a hero coming from a small people whose historical fate has often been to be caught between domination from both the East and West will find this film to be deeply moving in its portrayal of the trauma and violence involved in defending one’s homeland and dignity in the face of oppressive forces. This film is directed and written ably by Jalmari Helender, and the laconic lead role is played by Jorma Tommila. A talented but generally obscure cast of mostly (but not entirely) Finnish actors and actresses play the role of brutal and doomed Nazi soldiers seeking to despoil the Finnish prospector Aatami to fund their escape from the show trials they know will follow the inevitable defeat of the Nazi regime, the captive women they are bringing with them to satisfy their own evil lusts, and bit parts of other Finns who are encountered at the end of the film when the action moves from the desolate but gorgeous wilderness of Lapland and its towns burned by the retreating Nazis to the damaged capital of Helsinki.
In many ways, this film serves as a love letter to the indomitable spirit of Finland in the face of stronger and often oppressive neighbors that is characterized by its brave hero as well as a love letter to the violent and gory action movies of Quintin Tarantino and others like him. If you appreciate the heroism and bloody vengeance of those often looked down upon and taken advantage of, this is definitely a film I can highly recommend seeing if it is available in theaters, or later on if you can only watch it on streaming, but I do not recommend it for those who are squeamish about seeing gore and peril, as this movie earn its R rating for vivid portrayals of intense violence. Made for a modest budget of about $5M, if this film is able to earn enough of a return on its investment, we may hope for a prequel which features the main character slaughtering his way through violent Communist bullies, which would also be a satisfying and enjoyable film experience.