There’s a lot of value in a name, if I see a movie called Hobo With A Shotgun, I know that I’m probably in for something violent, something ridiculous, and something fun. Or if I see a movie called 2 Fast 2 Furious, I know it’s probably “Dude-Bro Dog-Shit.” So when I got the chance to watch a movie called The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot, I had all kinds of B-Movie ideas in my head about what it could be. To my surprise, the film is actually a reflective look on one man’s amazing life and the decidable un-amazing place he’s found himself in his old age. And I’m not sure how I feel about that, it’s not that the film wasn’t what I was expecting it to be, and the film itself didn’t know what it wanted to be.
The film finds Calvin Barr (Sam Elliot), a former U.S. Solider who, in his younger years, tracked down and killed Adolf Hitler during World War II. Then promptly had the whole thing covered up by the government and has spent the last few decades watching Hitler’s hate-speech live on throughout the world. His boredom and loneliness are interrupted when the U.S. and Canadian governments approach Calvin asking for his help again. The legendary Bigfoot is real and living in the Canadian wilderness where it is carrying a dangerous biological disease that has already killed people and risks being exposed to the wider population.
With Calvin being the only man immune to the disease has trained enough to carry out the task and still breathing, he’s asked to track down and kill Bigfoot before the disease spreads. With his life circling back around, Calvin reminisces about his time in the war, his relationship with a woman called “Maxine,” and the life they might have had together.
Despite the title, this is a very slow-burn film. The actual Bigfoot doesn’t come into the film until nearly an hour in and the Hitler story is told quickly in flashbacks to make room for the doomed romance between Calvin and Maxine (which is a major sore-point for the film I’ll get to in a moment). The slow-burn would be fine if the film actually felt like it was going anywhere, but it takes so long to actually do something, and the end-result is fairly limp-wristed, with the last ten to fifteen minutes winding down a film that was already slow to start with.
Part of that might be on me for wanting the film to live up to its batshit insane title, in all honesty, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a slow, solemn look back on a man’s life. But the film will occasionally try to live up to its batshit insane title with the entire Bigfoot plot feeling like something out of a pulp novel, but with none of the self-awareness to make it work. There’s a real tonal problem with this film and it hurts it badly.
What also hurts the film is that outside of Sam Elliot, there’s not really anyone worth giving a shit about. Larry Miller did fine as Calvin’s younger brother Ed, though I wish there was more between the two of them (giving their relationship is portrayed as good but distant, I’ll take that as intentional). Ron Livingston as basically a walk-on role as the Government official listed only as ‘Flag Pin’ who’s there to spout exposition, was serious then disappeared completely. But the weakest link in the whole cast was Caitlin FitzGerald as Maxine. Not through any fault of her own, it’s just that for as much as the film tries to make her this big part of Calvin’s life, I never bought into it. She’s such a non-entity in the film, I actually struggled to understand why they kept pushing her into every flashback.
I understand the point that Maxine was suppose to be, she was this schoolteacher with the patience of a saint, and more importantly the chance of a happy life with Calvin. But their relationship has no time to breath, it’s shown completely in flashbacks which means we miss out on huge chunks of their time together (I think they’re ready to be engaged by the second or third time we see Maxine) and it has no bearing on the present scenes. I feel bad shitting on a character who has done absolutely nothing wrong, but the fact that she’s completely unmemorable in a film where she’s suppose to be one of the most important aspect of the main character’s life is almost as bad.
Thankfully the film is held together by Sam Elliot, easily the best thing about this film and that includes the title. For as much as I’ve said about the film’s confusing tone, Sam Elliot nails exactly what he’s going for. He plays Calvin as this weathered, weary old man, not quite angry at the world, but fed up that every decent act he tries to do gets shit on by the people around him. Helped by Aiden Turner playing him as a younger man (a little more fresh-faced but already worried about what life he might have to live), Elliot gives Calvin this sense of authority without coming off as overconfident, he’s bad-ass, but doesn’t try to be, instead he’s avoided killing anyone since Hitler, but that doesn’t mean he’s not ready to kick someone’s ass if need be. As much as I would’ve loved to have seen Sam Elliot go all out with the pulpy nonsense I was expecting, seeing him more refined without losing his bad-ass edge was still something to behold.
The film is the feature debut for director Robert Krzykowki and he makes a lot of the trademark errors for first-time directors. Namely the tone is inconsistent, not just in that he had an awesome name for an action B-Movie and used it for a trip down memory lane, but that he still tried to make an action B-Movie regardless. It’s difficult to explain, but there’ll be scenes that are played completely straight-laced which giving that the film spends a good portion of its time explaining why Calvin has to go in and kill Bigfoot, makes you yearn for just a little piece of self-awareness, just something that lets you know the filmmakers are in on the joke only for that never to arrive. But then you’ll get Calvin looking down at a literally wall of weapons, then only picking a rifle and a knife because he’s so bad-ass that he doesn’t need anything else.
The worst example comes just as Calvin starts his hunt, we see him in a field surrounded by fire, looking very Apocalypse Now-esque, then literally the very next second he’s got Bigfoot in his sights and taking a shot, the entire build-up to the hunt was for naught because we just head straight for the ending. It’s that mish-mash of tones that make it difficult to know how to take this film, does it want to be slow and solemn or quick and fun, and even if it wanted to do both, it could’ve blended the two styles together a lot better than this. None of this is to say that Krzykowski doesn’t do anything right, while mostly carried by the greatness of Sam Elliot. It’s the scenes where Calvin is thinking back on his life and wondering what happened that make the film, the scenes where they embrace the sombre tone and let Elliot do his thing. I’d argue that the best scene in the film is when ‘Flag-Pin’ first talks to Calvin, not because it kicks off the Bigfoot half to the film, but because it’s entirely focused on Calvin explaining what he did in the war, why it was covered up, what happened to him, and how he feels about his actions decades after the fact. Take out Bigfoot entirely and you have a decent alternative history drama that could’ve gone all the way with a more serious tone.
I feel like I’m harping on a bit, but the sheer badassery of a film called The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then the Bigfoot cannot be ignored, but there’s very little about the film that actually wants to embrace that. The story wants to be a self-reflective examination of a great man and the regrets he’s facing in his twilight years. The direction wants it to be this Pulpy B-Movie action joint about a legendary soldier who performed the impossible, brought back into the fold to do the impossible again, and the marriage between the two is non-existent. If not for Sam Elliot, I would’ve given this film a lower grade, he single-handedly saves the whole picture with his dignified bad-assdom and complete encapsulation of whatever tone the film throws at him.
I am giving The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot a 3 out of 5 Hairpieces!