Film Review: ‘Tom of Finland’ Is a Spirited Portrait of an Iconic Figure

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Must admit that the work of director Dome Karukoski has not been explored or seen at this time of writing.  With the ambitious and classical nature in which he constructs his latest venture “Tom of Finland,” he has shot up the cinematic “to do” list in terms of exploration.  With the affecting power of “Milk” layered with the gloss of a Mike Leigh picture, Karukoski’s in-depth look into one of the most influential artists of the gay community, is positively superb.

There’s plenty to give praise but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the meticulous and detailed performance of Pekka Strang as the reserved and internalized Touko Laaksonen, also known as “Tom of Finland.”  Strang anchors the film with a poignancy that echoes the cinematic hallways.  He perfectly captures the resolve that borders on heartbreak and self-hate.  

Pekka Strang as Tom of Finland

As an unconventional biopic, “Tom of Finland” is polished like a full on epic.  The first half of the film, which focuses on Touko during the war and his sexual encounters with soldiers and nighttime mystery men from the park, features stunning imagery.  What the film lacks in terms of rigor, it makes up for with a pillar of emotion by the film’s end.  It probably could have benefited from a further and deeper exploration of homosexuality as a crime during the time.  The viewer could have been farther invested in its story and central themes.  Especially as it looks at the difference between the acceptance of homosexuality in America versus Europe.

The sets and costumes are impressive as it maneuvers through decades of gay and human rights.  It adds to the film’s emotional touch.  Christian Olander‘s production designs are exquisite as is the detailed work of Anna Vilppunen‘s costumes.

Though “Tom of Finland” deals with somber topics, there’s a joy that’s felt within its core.  It can be vitally inspiring as it examines the heart and tortured soul of a historical figure, and intriguing as it tackles its serious issues regarding equal rights and treatment.  There are many scenes that you can’t help but smile at some of the freedom that’s explored in the characters.

Tom of Finland” is a fantastic companion piece to any film that deals with LGBTQ rights.  It’s the European perspective and answer to “Milk,” actually preferred in both performance and execution.

“Tom of Finland” is distributed by Kino Lorber is currently open in limited theaters.

GRADE: (★★★½)

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “TOM OF FINLAND” ranks!

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LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
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ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |