A Cautionary Tale of Leaving Your Values in Purgatory

​Review of A Patriotic Man at SIFF by Daniel G.

It's interesting to see a foreign take on patriotism; so much of the American conception of it is mostly seen as a stereotype. But how does it manifest in other countries? More specifically, in Finland? That seems to be one of many questions that A Patriotic Man attempts to answer, and it doesn't completely fail on that front. But in terms of lighthearted entertainment, the movie lacks just enough to be something even of satirical nature.

I truly wanted to enjoy the film. It's a story based on true events with completely fictional characters, but unfortunately those same characters are actually what makes the film feel so bland at points. None of them feel entertaining or as if they have depth. The main character Toivo feels more like the type who's just too blank from beginning to end. He never changes who he is and that makes him feel as if he's a blank easel that other people write on and then wipe away before any significant changes can be made, which makes him mostly unlikable.

Surprisingly, the real concept outshines all the characters as a whole. The basic idea of athletes so determined to win that they'll be willing to submit to near-daily blood transfusions from Toivo (who has massive amounts of hemoglobin that any athlete could use for better performance) is interesting, which makes it too bad that the events of the film feel so mismatched with the characters.

The second strongest component of A Patriotic Man is its wit, which comes with its ups and downs. It's supposed to be a comedy, but the best you'll be able to draw is some smart one-liners. It's more akin to another anti-hero tale that's morally gray, which wouldn't be bad if I had come into the movie expecting the latter. The director does a fantastic job of capturing this, and the cinematography is stellar as well. It's great that the few moments of comedy are so intelligent, but it's disappointing that there's so little.

Overall, it's so difficult to judge this movie. On the one hand, it's very well directed and the tone is captured so well. Yet the film’s tone was so much more depressing than jovial. It felt less like a dark comedy and more like a cautionary tale of leaving your values in purgatory. My main problem with this film was just how little sympathy or laughs I gave the entire way through.

So if you plan on watching A Patriotic Man, don't expect to laugh, but instead to ponder over what dedication and patriotism truly mean. It's a film that falls short on so many of its expectations, but it gives complete surprises instead. I could see some people loving the film considering how much elements are akin to those of, say, Fargo, but for the poor souls looking to be in stitches I can imagine some dreary disappointments.

A Patriotic Man
Screenings: May 16, 29, and 30

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