A film review by Craig J. Koban March 10, 2019

THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT jjj
   

2019, R, 98 mins.

 

Sam Elliott as Calvin Barr  /  Aidan Turner as Calvin Barr  /  Ron Livingston as Flag Pin  /  Caitlin FitzGerald as Maxine  /  Larry Miller as Ed  /  Rizwan Manji as Maple Leaf

Written and directed by Robert D. Krzykowski

 

 

 

To quote its gloriously specific - yet monumentally spoilerific - title, THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT is a new action adventure film steeped in history and more than a bit of pulpy, comic book inspired intrigue.  Reading that title alone will probably elicit ample eye rolling in some filmgoers, seeing as it will probably make them feel that this is low budget, B-grade fare designed for midnight showings at grindhouse cinemas.  

One of the splendid surprises of writer/director Robert Krzykowski's (a comic book artist making his feature debut) film is that it certainly taps into his obvious fondness for said B-grade fare, but his film is definitely not a one joke affair.  Walking into it I was expecting something beyond schlocky, but by the time I left my screening I was kind of amazed how commendably serious the film is as a meditation on aging, heroism, how one deals with past regrets, and the horrors of wartime from yesteryear rearing its ugly head in the present.

Oh, but it does contain a man killing Adolf Hitler and Bigfoot...let's not forget that.

I've often described films that transcend their jokey premise to become something grander as real cinematic curevballs thrown at unsuspecting viewers.  This description perfectly fits THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT: Superficially, it's an action and war film with fantastical elements, to be sure, but it's never once played for cornball laughs.  There's a dramatic urgency and authenticity to the proceedings, and Krzykowski certainly deserves props for emotionally elevating his film well above its silly, attention grabbing title.  This film could have been pure outlandish hogwash deserving of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 levels of open mockery in lesser hands, but Krzykowski miraculously makes his directorial debut compulsively watchable as an enthralling character piece that's no where near as goofy as most people will be expecting going in.  That, and this utterly strange, yet beguiling film helps reinforce why its star in Sam Elliott is an absolute performance treasure that should be savored.

 

 

He plays a retired WWII veteran named Calvin Barr, who's living out his retirement years in a small Northwest town that borders Canada.  He spends most of his free days hanging out with his dog and frequenting a barber shop run by his younger brother Ed (Larry Miller) when his not pounding them back at a local bar.  He certainly looks like just about every other unassuming small town senior citizen, but there's a special aura about him which comes to the forefront during an opening scene that showcases him drunkenly beating up a bunch of potential car thieves.  Clearly, this old dude can handle himself, and the film segues in and out of flashbacks throughout the story that reveals the younger Calvin (Aidan Turner) during his war era prime as a highly skilled operative whose skills with weapons and linguistics made him a perfect choice to lead the charge of a secret mission to, yup, murder Hitler.  As the film title has already matter-of-factly pointed out, he succeeded in his mission and later retired to a quite life away from any type of spotlight.

Obviously, this is just half of the story here, because THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT then transitions to the other story arc of Calvin taking on a very famous and elusive hairy bipedal animal, but not quite for the reasons you'd think.  An intrepid FBI agent (Ron Livingston) and a Canadian government rep (Rizwan Manji) locate the off the radar Calvin and show up at his door, revealing to him that they know that he did indeed assassinate Hitler and wish to now use his skills as a hunter and tracker to locate a disease riddled Bigfoot that's running rampant in the Canadian forests and is a carrier of a virus that - if unleashed to a wider human population - could lead to the extermination of humanity (conveniently, Calvin is immune, making him the only skilled man for the job).  The two recruiters find Calvin to be a hard nut to crack, seeing as he's not proud at all at his killing of the Fuhrer, and certainly doesn't want to have anything more to do with killing anything or anyone else ("I don't want to kill again, either beast or man!" he growls).  Still, Calvin doesn't want human beings wiped off the planet either, so he begrudgingly accepts their assignment and springs into action.

SPOILER ALERT: He kills Bigfoot.

To say that THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT has a very challenging tonal balance to maintain is the grandest of understatements.  The fact based wartime threat of Nazi Germany is painted with legitimately thrilling and frighteningly relatable strokes, which is juxtaposed later with the presence of a mythical monster that the main character is tasked to slay decades after putting Hitler six feet under.  On top of that, the film also inserts in another flashback arc showing Calvin's sweet and tender relationship with a kindly schoolteacher (Caitlin Fitzgerald) that ended badly for both of them, something that has mentally burdened Calvin right up into his old age, which - alongside killing Hitler - forced him into an existence of solitude and complete obscurity.  But, again, none of this material is played for broad comedy.  Krzykowski's writing and Elltiot's sincere performance makes this cockamamie mishmashed material somehow feel heartfelt and emotionally resonant.  Adding to that is just how beautifully shot the film is at times as a picturesque travelogue expose of war ravaged Europe and the present day ruggedness of the harsh Canadian wilderness.  

That's not to say that this film doesn't have moments of lively humor.  The aforementioned scene involving the old geezer Calvin kicking the tar out of those would-be thieves is pricelessly funny, and there's most assuredly something oddly exhilarating to see the story shift into ass-kick man-on-a-mission mode when Calvin - the last possible savoir of the human race - infiltrates the tight quarantined zone that Bigfoot is trapped in up in the Great White North.  This makes up most of the third act, and witnessing this geriatric gear up and march on - weapons in tow - to eradicate this plagued riddled monster is undeniably gripping and, at times, unsettling and scary.  There's no sense of the thrill of the hunt, though, for Calvin.  He's seen too much killing in his time for him to be joyously swept up in the euphoria of being the man who would take down two of humanity's biggest threats. 

What else could one say about the awesomeness that is Sam Elliott that has not already been said in countless other reviews during his storied career.  What he achieves here is pretty staggering and impressive: If he overplays and hams it up then THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT would have never elevated itself above disposable campy value.  Instead, Elliot respects the underlining solemnity of tone that Krzykowski builds early on and establishes a grizzled old coot that seems broken down by mounting levels of regret and discontentment throughout his life.  This guy has seen too much shit in his life and now wants to seclude himself away from just about everyone and everything.  Of course, Elliott can play a crusty curmudgeon in his proverbial sleep, but he also exudes a level of world weary melancholy and understated charm that has made the actor such a memorable force in movies for decades.  He's so damn good and in his element here; he infuses in THE MAN KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT with a dramatic gravitas that helps its perverse time jumping premise go down all the more smoothly.

Now, it's easy to criticize this film for being, well, seriously anticlimactic (the whole narrative arc is right there in the title).  I would also say that the film is also perhaps a tad too short considering the ambitiousness of covering Calvin's backstory and present day woes (I would have appreciated an extra 15-20 minutes added on to bulk up the overall character development here).  But, my goodness, does THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT achieve lingering lasting power with its chronicling of the elimination of real world historical evil and an animal gestating for a long time based in myth and folklore...and it does so mostly with a straight face and no obtrusive winking to the audience that it's trying to make some mockery of the material.  There's clear cut genre mashing going on here, but THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT thanklessly emerges as a genuinely intoxicating take on getting old and living with haunting regrets.  If you're willing to throw your expectations completely out the door entering into this film, then I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how wonderfully and intriguingly low key the whole affair is, and one that trusts viewers for taking the journey through some very, very bizarre detours.  As one line of dialogue from the film offers up, "It's nothing like the comic book you want it to be."  

Amen to that.  

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