Many action films nowadays feel compelled to make overt statements about the divided social climate. This year alone saw the Liam Neeson vehicle Blacklight and Netflix’s Interceptor touch on everything from the legacy of political corruption in America to sexual harassment in the military to racism towards immigrants. While there is nothing wrong with attempting to bring intellectual depth to films in which car chases and shootouts are the main draw for audiences, these topics are often shoehorned with the subtlety of an elephant crashing through a glass windowpane.
Thankfully, Aku Louhimies’ Attack on Finland bucks this trend by sidestepping the soapbox completely. Instead, Louhimies’ film is more of a throwback action thriller where the web of political deceit literally spans borders. Based on the novel 6/12 by Ilkka Remes, things ramp up when terrorists decide to use Finland’s Independence Day celebration at the Presidential Palace as a time to cause havoc. When the Finnish President and his distinguished guest are taken hostage, security service officer Max Tanner (BlacKkKlansman’s Jasper Pääkkönen) is called in to play negotiator.
A member of the EU Joint Police Operations, a bureau that specializes in cyber security threats, Tanner has just returned to Finland after a mission with agent Sylvia Madsen (Nanna Blondell) unexpectedly went sideways. While his current assignment starts off promising, with lead terrorist Vasa Jankovic (Sverrir Gudnason) releasing many hostages off the bat, while keeping the high-profile ones, it does not take long for Tanner to realize that this is more than a simple hostage crisis.
While the hostage crisis is the bait that will reel audiences in, Attack on Finland plays out more along the lines of White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen than it does Die Hard. As Tanner embarks on a covert mission to hunt down the individuals responsible, Louhimies’ film features all the expected action beats. Pulling from some of the staple tropes of the genre, Attack on Finland includes scenes where hostages are dressed like criminals to confuse law enforcement, a thrilling nighttime car chase scene, and plenty of close-range shootouts, etc.
Attack on Finland may follow a traditional formula, but what makes the first half so thrilling is the sheer number of characters in play. Outside of Tanner, and to a lesser extent Sylvia, one is never sure who can be trusted. Everyone has a motive that is not always transparent. For example, Jankovic agrees to lead the assault on the Finnish President both for financial and personal reasons. The latter of which is closely linked the impact of the Kosovo War on his family, including his incarcerated father. Who is funding the Jankovic’s operation remains a mystery for a good portion of the film. All that is known is that he was recruited by a mysterious woman named Anya (Nika Savolainen), who represents an entity with deep pockets.
Considering that everyone keeps their cards close to the vest, including his own superiors, watching Tanner attempt to put together the pieces of a puzzle he cannot fully see is unexpectedly engaging. It helps that Pääkkönen plays the character with all the fallibility that comes with a person always being one-step behind the folks he’s chasing. It also helps that he has enough charisma to make cheesy lines like “tweet this,” when blowing up a computer server, sound action-hero cool.
While Pääkkönen proves more than capable of steering this action ship, the waters it sails get rather choppy. Though it begins as a taut action thriller, Louhimies’ film falters somewhat in the latter sections. By amping up the action set pieces, one begins to see several strands of the film unravel. Characters are conveniently able to get out of tight situations despite being surrounded by gun carrying enemy combatants; villains who are supposed to be skilled killers suddenly develop terrible aim; it gets confusing to follow who is double-crossing whom after a while; etc. Even the arc involving Tanner’s unspoken feelings for Sylvia, who is married with kids, is never fleshed out.
Despite not quite fully delivering on the promise of its thrilling set up there is still much to enjoy here. Louhimies’ film does not attempt to reinvent the action wheel, so Attack on Finland is simply content to be a solid action-thriller. Sometimes, that is all you need.