SEO be damned, I adore movies with big, long, cumbersome titles. They’re almost always beautifully specific and devoid of silly nuance.
Titles like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford are brilliant examples of movies that don’t beat around the bush and just state plain and simple what’s happening. Robert D. Krzykowski’s debut feature has this same convention: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. And as silly as the title is, the movie is not—instead it’s about the man who could do such things and how his life ended up.
You hear a title like that and you think it’s going to be a specific kind of grindhouse spoof that has been playing festivals for the past decade. But this is truly more than that. It’s a much simpler, much more contemplative movie that treats these actions as an aspect of the man, but not the entirety of him, even if that’s all he feels like he is. What if a mythical figure didn’t want to be one? What would he do? He’d probably live somewhere quiet and drink alone every night, musing on his past.
Sam Elliott plays Calvin Barr, the stoic, retired military man living in the northern United States, in some indeterminate time (likely the 1980s, but it’s irrelevant). Calvin drinks at a bar every night, spends time with his dog, and tries to make as little a footprint on the world as possible. He does this because, in World War II, he killed Adolf Hitler. Flashbacks to Calvin’s youth are headlined by Aidan Turner, who does a miraculous job of seeming like a young Sam Elliott. Calvin looks back with regret, not for doing his duty as an American, but for the toll it took on his relationship with Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), the girl he would have/should have married if he’d not been undercover across enemy lines.
The only people Calvin speaks to in his little town are the bartender and his brother Ed (Larry Miller), the local barber who only gets a visit from Calvin when he needs a haircut. In short: Calvin is a sad, lonely man. But he’s given a sense of purpose, even when he doesn’t want it, when he’s visited by representatives of the U.S. and Canadian government, looking for the man who killed Hitler to go into the Canadian wilderness and take out a vicious threat to nature: a creature known as Bigfoot.
Despite its title, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is a remarkably simple movie, merely showing us the portrait of a man who did his duty and feels totally unmoved by it. He’s a man out of step with every facet of his life, which is why it feels so appropriate that a particular year for the older Calvin sequences is never given, nor can be clearly divined. That it’s Western movie veteran Sam Elliott, his mustache in all its lip-covering glory, makes him appear all the more mythic, but it’s Elliott’s fully grounded performance that turns that myth back into a man. Just a man.
The entire cast supporting Elliott is wonderful. The scenes between Turner and FitzGerald are bittersweet and bring to mind one’s own lost loves. Miller gives one of the best performances you’ve ever seen him give, and though a comedian by trade, he too keeps it fully grounded. The only time the proceedings get a little silly is when the Bigfoot himself is shown, but even then Krzykowski and Elliott treat Calvin’s encounter with the creature so sweetly and melancholic that any silliness fades.
I wasn’t sure what I’d get with a movie called The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, but it ended up being a really wonderful little movie about the effects of infamy—even unacknowledged infamy—on the psyche and life of the infamous. Some people never set out to be myths, don’t want to be when they become such, and know in their hearts this ascension ruined, or at least complicated, their lives. The film mixes sensationalism and solemnity in a surprisingly beautiful way, and I think it’ll end up with a lot more life than some of its overtly spoofier brethren.