Between the events of January 6, 2021 (the radical right-wing insurrection against the U.S. Capitol provoked by Donald Trump) and the events of February 24, 2022 (Russia’s latest effort at conquering the sovereign nation of Ukraine), movies about attempted coups or attempted invasions have come to hit a tad too close to home. This is poor news for Attack on Finland, Finnish director Aku Louhimies’ adaptation of Ilkka Remes’ 2006 novel Omerta 6/12. Once upon a 2013, a film like Olympus Has Fallen was a commercially viable escapist fantasy; today, even with the material emigrated to the Land of a Thousand Islands, it feels a little too real.
While no movie gets to pick its moment and, perhaps in this moment, it’s impossible to watch this movie fully divested from its accidental reflections of our grim reality, Attack on Finland has other problems. Finland celebrates its Independence Day every December 6. In Attack on Finland, festivities at the presidential palace are cut short by terrorists who take President Koskivuo and the rest of state leadership, intent on destabilizing European politics and security writ large. The only man who can stop them? Markus “Max” Tanner, played by Spike Lee’s favorite overseas import, Jasper Pääkkönen.
The plots—the movie’s and the terrorists’—run on the over-complicated side, Attack on Finland’s being especially convoluted. This is standard-issue spy-action-thriller stuff: Whether based on Steinhauer, le Carré or Clancy, whenever international espionage mixes it up with gunfire and world-altering stakes, the threads are numerous and their intersections are labyrinthine. Attack on Finland is no exception. But Louhimies appears boxed in to an extent by the story’s original medium, which is more expansive and allows for understated, sparsely visited romance to bloom between Tanner and his intelligence partner, Sylvia Madsen (Nanna Blondell).
Sylvia starts out the movie fatally shooting the teen son of Russian gangster Leonid Titov (Juhan Ulfsak) during a covert mission to nick Titov’s laptop from his fancy-pants home. This detail colors her character and Tanner’s relationship to her, and later recurs to bite everybody on their camo-clad asses when Titov is revealed as one member of the shadowy cabal involved in the presidential hostage crisis. Also part of that cabal: Young Vasa Jankovic (Sverrir Gudnason), a Serbian burdened by an Atlas-sized moral conflict as well as undying filial loyalty to his imprisoned dad (Miodrag Stojanovic), who refuses to acknowledge Vasa as his son on account of being a raging prick. Dad is leveraged as incentive for Vasa’s participation. It goes on. And on. And on.
Attack on Finland is subject to overwhelming amounts of exposition, a further reminder of the source material and the restrictions it imposes on Louhimies’ movie via Jari Olavi Rantala’s screenplay. The narrative jumps from location to location, helpfully identified with title cards, with little actually happening until the terrorists strike. Here, the movie comes to life. Louhimies shows strong fundamentals for maintaining tension and screwing around with audience expectations, such that the eventual outcome of the attack actually comes as a shock. Pääkkönen, finally given something to do besides stare stoically at Blondell and his other costars, switches gears and acts through the contours of his face instead of the vein in his forehead. (The vein in his forehead, for clarity’s sake, is a formidable tool, and aids him well in Lee’s BlackKklansman.)
Pääkkönen realizes Tanner as characters like Tanner should be: Weary and despondent, having borne witness to an overdose of subterfuge while leading a near-hollow personal life. Maybe Tanner hasn’t seen it all, but he’s seen enough, and Pääkkönen uses his bone structure to drag the character down. The weight on Tanner’s face says it all. Watching Pääkkönen’s performance grow into the finale—which, again, is exciting enough that the gravitational drag leading into it becomes almost tolerable in retrospect—allows for a new appreciation of his acting style, ultimately shaping the film into a study of him rather than as a reconstruction of Remes’ work.
Taken that way, Attack on Finland is a picture worth analyzing, and in bits and pieces worth savoring. But the film is too duty-bound to Remes’ book. Instead of exercising artistic liberties over the written word, Louhimies goes all-in on putting those words on screen, a task too great even for nearly two hours of runtime; maybe Attack on Finland would work better if fashioned into a miniseries. Even then, though, it wouldn’t work as the entertainment it aspires toward.
Director: Aku Louhimies
Writer: Jari Olavi Rantala, Ilkka Remes (novel by)
Starring: Jasper Pääkkönen, Nanna Blondell, Sverrir Gudnason, Cathy Belton, Nika Savolainen, Juhan Ulfsak, Zijad Gracic, Robert Enckell
Release Date: July 1, 2022
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.