Decidedly less pulpy and more sobering than its grindhouse name implies, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot stuffs existential drama into a B-movie premise to mixed results. Sam Elliot plays Calvin Barr, a stony tracker who must sit on the fact that he assassinated Adolf Hitler half a lifetime ago. Nowadays, Calvin haunts a local dive, drinking two fingers of cheap whiskey, bending the ear of George the bartender.
With a title like The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, it’s just natural to expect a schlocky pulp adventure flick and there are scenes in the directorial debut from Robert D. Krzykowski that live up to that wild promise. But, by and large, Krzykowski’s creation is more interested in the mustached man behind the mission and the heartache that defines him. And those bits can be a bit of a chore, especially when they take up a vast majority of the film’s runtime.
The low-budget independent film is a generation-spanning serial chunked into three periods of Calvin’s life which include: a pre-war love affair with schoolteacher Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald); a rather pulse-pounding hunt for the Führer in WWII Germany when Calvin (Aidan Turner) is still in his younger skin; and a look into his twilight years, where Calvin is unwillingly recruited by his government to track down “the Bigfoot” because of a unique immunity to a biological virus being spread by the folklore cryptid.
Krzykowski explores a man, a myth, and a legend while meditating about growing old in a world that might no longer want or need you. He paints the elderly Calvin as a man with a strict aversion to killing, who’s tasted of its fruit and found himself haunted, twisting that premise into a treatise on how war makes men feel undeserving of love; exploring the dichotomy of how wartime makes heroes of killers. It opens the door for some rather charged dramatic work from Elliot, who takes the role very seriously, silly title and all.
For all the film’s faults, Sam Elliot is the magic bullet. In an alternate universe, this role could be played with Clint Eastwood’s cantankerous get-off-my-lawn sneer but Elliot plays the world-weary no-nonsense shut-in perfectly, giving Calvin a good measure of heart, broken though it remains. The promise of Elliot as a geriatric ass-kicker is fulfilled early on when three punks lift his car keys and wallet and he’s forced to shift to hulk-mode but the film – which later includes a Bigfoot costume that isn’t much more sophisticated than the ’69 version of Planet of the Apes – isn’t so much interested in violence itself as it is the emotional aftermath of violence and the toll it takes on the aggressor.
This approach can prove a double-edged sword and leaves the film wobbling, caught in a balancing act of wanting to have your cake and eating it too. To provoke or to incite pity, seems to be the question left unanswered. Krzykowski wants the shock-and-awe adventure components but he also wants the low-broil character trauma and the two approaches don’t always harmonize. As the film drags on, the first-time director shows a mixed ability to keep everything balanced and appealing and by the end, it has largely gotten away from him.
In one instance, he’s able to draw an impossibly magical measure of tension out of a shaving scene. And yet, the last 20-odd minutes of the movie is almost punishingly paced. Throughout the first half of the movie, the Sam Elliot portions are rather slow and defined by long scenes of forlorn gazes and general moping. Even at an abbreviated run time, there’s just not a ton of content. Despite the titular slayings of both Hitler and the Bigfoot, which are rather quick affairs.
Even when The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot isn’t firing on all cylinders, it boasts a remarkably committed performance from Elliot and fiery, striking imagery courtesy of DP Alex Vendler that makes the whole thing fun to look at, when it’s not wallowing in an outdated single-family dining room. If Krzykowski were able to rein in some of the disparate elements of his creation and touch up the script in portions – some of the writing is quite literal, on-the-nose stuff, giving us some juicy one-liners like “When a fancy man is fancy, he’s fancy” – he could really be onto something, smuggling a meditation on life and love into an otherwise pulpy B-movie. The folding in of all the different parts just doesn’t totally work and when the film begins to get boring, it becomes ever the more noticeable.
The one-dimensional love story doesn’t add much and can even become a bit grating when it becomes a focal point in the part of the movie where it should already be an afterthought. But, to the very end, there’s a chunky yellow lab running around the screen, which earns the movie a full-letter grade in pure Good Boy points alone.
CONCLUSION: Over-the-top name aside, ‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot’ betrays the shlock of its title to deliver a middling meditative on the long-term outcome of violence that begins with a bang and peters out, despite a shockingly committed performance from Sam Elliot.
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