From the title alone, you might expect The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot to be a massive slice of cinematic insanity. It’s true that there’s a really bonkers sequence in which star Sam Elliott fights the legendary Sasquatch. Beyond that, though, the movie — which had its world premiere at Fantasia 2018 — is fairly restrained. That’s a good thing, because there’s far more depth here than the awesome and technically accurate attention-getting title suggests. Using the word “melancholy” to describe a film with such a moniker is odd, yet also perfectly apt. However you want to describe it, this is a special work that hits you in unexpected ways.
Elliott plays Calvin Barr, a man who has been carrying around a secret for decades: he assassinated Adolf Hitler. For a variety of reasons best unrevealed here, he never got credit for it, not that he cares. Despite eliminating one of history’s greatest villains, Calvin regrets having taken a life. The event also cost him his relationship with girlfriend Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), who is seen in the flashbacks that permeate the film. Aidan Turner plays Calvin during those scenes.
It is not a welcome event when representatives from the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police show up at Calvin’s door asking for his help. The FBI agent (Ron Livingston) knows about Hitler and now wants him to track and kill Bigfoot, who is carrying a disease that could wipe out mankind. After some initial resistance, Calvin agrees to put himself into a situation where he’ll have to kill again.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot has two questions at its core. The first is, What if you did something truly remarkable but had ambivalent feelings about it? The second is, Would it be foolish to do something remarkable again, given those ambivalent feelings from before? Writer/director Robert Krzykowski explores how Calvin struggles to reconcile what he did with how it affected his life. Yes, he made the world better for everyone else. For himself, though? That’s another matter. He’s not sure if it was ultimately worth it. In some respects, the movie is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven in the way it maps the emotional toll getting pulled back into violence takes on the lead character, although Calvin Barr’s outcome is certainly different than William Munny’s.
Sam Elliott gives yet another stellar performance here, expertly conveying the way Calvin’s ordeal and its subsequent repercussions have worn him down over the years. You can feel every drop of guilt, remorse, and sorrow. At the same time, the actor shows how his character gradually opens up to himself and finds some form of acceptance over the course of his adventure pursuing Bigfoot. It’s more great work from a performer who routinely delivers greatness.
The fact that The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is so hard to categorize is part of what makes it so special. Predicting where it will go from minute to minute is impossible. Krzykowski confidently weaves the story between past and present, reality and fantasy. A “big” moment will be followed by one that’s quieter and more introspective. He scatters little cross-references between timelines, and utilizes a clever metaphor for Calvin’s problem — one that involves his shoe. The cumulative result is that the movie takes what could have been a jokey premise and instead melds it into something mythic and meaningful.
One of the most pleasing qualities of genre films is their ability to tackle deep themes in a way that’s not as heavy-handed or obvious as they could be if tackled straight-on. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is as good an example of that as you will find. This is a touching, affecting story about a man coming to terms with his life’s deeds. And it just happens to have him fighting Bigfoot.
For more information about Fantasia 2018, please visit the official website.
For my reviews of movies currently in theatrical release, please visit the main page of The Aisle Seat.