From the title alone, you might expect The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot to be a grindhouse spoof with excessive violence, exploding pustules, and other cheesy, sordid pleasures of an older form of midnight movie entertainment. As it turns out, The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot is the furthest thing from camp, with the titular killings only comprising two short scenes of the film’s 98-minute runtime. Apart from one over-the-top sequence in which star Sam Elliott fights the legendary Sasquatch, Robert D. Krzykowski’s stunning debut feature is more interested in providing a character study, resulting in a remarkably simple movie about a man coming to terms with the choices he’s made throughout his life. There are various tonal shifts and stylistic influences scattered throughout that make this a very unconventional drama, but make no mistake — this is first and foremost a drama, as well as a film that manages to tug at the heartstrings along the way. It might not be the midnight movie the title suggests, but it’s an endlessly engaging adventure that any genre fan should take interest in seeing.
Featuring a revisionist view of history, Krzykowki’s feature stars Sam Elliot as the titular man, Calvin Barr, a legendary, retired World War II veteran now living in a small town in the northern United States. The film opens with the first of many flashbacks of a younger Calvin (played by Aidan Turner) on a secret mission to assassinate Hitler by penetrating his compound and utilizing a make-do pistol to accomplish his assignment. History tells that Der Fuehrer died by his own hand, but as the title of the film suggests, that wasn’t actually the case. According to Calvin, the assassination was covered up, and as he tells one FBI agent, “It’s nothing like the comic book you want it to be.”
Calvin spends his days mostly walking his dog, and his nights drinking at a bar while reminiscing of his youth and his relationship with Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), the girl he would have married if he’d not been drafted in the war. Calvin looks back with regret for the life he took, since the price he paid to murder history’s most notorious war criminal led to a lifetime of loneliness. One day, Calvin gets a visit from a persuasive FBI agent (Ron Livingston) and The Royal Canadian Mounted Police to tell him that The Bigfoot is on the loose and responsible for a flurry of deaths in the midwest Canadian region. Without divulging too much information, the entire human race is in danger of being wiped out, and Calvin is their last hope in eradicating the beast. Calvin’s initial reaction is to turn them away since he doesn’t believe that he has the ethical right to kill anyone — not Hitler, and not even Bigfoot — but it doesn’t take long before he caves in and eventually accept the challenge.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is a film I admire more than I love. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining, because there are moments that truly do shine. One of the best scenes features Nikolai Tsankov playing a Russian double agent who insists upon shaving Calvin’s face with a straight razor as part of a ritual to cast away any bad omens. According to the legend, if he doesn’t cut Calvin while shaving, he will fail in his mission, but if Calvin sheds blood, he will succeed. It’s a scene worthy of comparisons to Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, with each stroke of the blade building tension. And of course, there is the showdown between Calvin and Bigfoot, which plays out as long hunt through the Canadian wilderness, culminating in a bloody hand-to-hand fight sequence. The scenes set in the wilderness where Calvin faces the legendary Sasquatch are breathtaking thanks to the gorgeous cinematography by DP Alex Vendler and the powerful score by Joe Kraemer.
There’s romance, political intrigue, action, gore, and even some humor, but it’s Sam Elliot’s fully grounded performance that elevates the film. Calvin is a man of few words, and a man having a hard time coping with a life that has become lonely and routine. His achievements have never brought him any happiness, and it is only his relationship with his younger brother, Ed (Larry Miller), a small-town barber, that offers him solace. Just how much you’re going to enjoy The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot depends on how much you enjoy his performance. Sure, Elliott has a few scenes where he’s allowed to chew the scenery (including one notable moment in which he beats up three young hooligans who try to steal his car), but for the majority of the pic, Elliot’s Calvin is a quiet old timer who spends every day contemplating opening an old box that he keeps tucked away beneath his bed. We never find out what is locked inside, but whatever it is, it means more to him than ever having recognition for his actions in the war.
Krzykowski’s feature debut draws heavily on flashbacks in order to provide context for Calvin’s actions and how he wound up where he is today. The problem is that as good as Aidan Turner is in the role of young Calvin Barr, whenever he’s onscreen, you can’t help but miss Sam Elliot’s presence. That said, the film wouldn’t exist without those scenes — or at least, not a film with this title. Therein lies the problem with this incredibly ambitions directorial debut: it’s a fascinating exercise in genre reinvention, but a film that also sacrifices its greatest asset (that being Sam Elliot’s performance) for half the running time.
– Ricky D
The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 12 – August 2. Visit the official website for more information.