Few movies have had a title quite like The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. That it’s nothing like what the title would lead you to conjure in your head is both sad and also refreshing. It is much more serious and filled with melancholy than its title would have you believe.
As debuts go, Robert D. Krzykowski promises to be, at the very least, an interesting director. Krzykowski also wrote the script. He has a tremendous amount of empathy and love for his characters while having an ear for dialogue. The characters speak in circles or cut straight to the point, but they never talk dully or inelegantly.
It is refreshing since films have seemed so focused on being unique and splashy that it lately has seemed as if the directors have more to say than the characters in the movies. Krzykowski understands that people talk differently to different people while also knowing that talking in circles can often reveal more than if they had merely spoken plainly.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is about the man, Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott), who killed Hitler and, eventually, Bigfoot. Only Krzykowski isn’t interested in merely revisionist history for nostalgia or some form of “what if” musings. Instead, Krzykowski revises the facts to show how futile the idea is. It’s the fascist ideology of the Third Reich that is the enemy. Hitler was merely a little man with a little mustache who happened to be in a particular place and time.
“The Germans covered it up. And so did we. And history marched on, just like you read about. By the time I got to that miserable man, his words had grown beyond him. And his ideas continued to do all the damage they could possibly do without him. That day, I just killed a man.”
One of the great pleasures of The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is how it doesn’t care about the more outlandish elements of its story. The pulp is there as set dressing but neither Krzykowski, Elliot, or Alex Vendler, the cinematographer, ever really lean into it or ever do anything so crass as to acknowledge what is happening is anything other than perfectly reasonable.
Another pleasure is Elliott’s performance. His weathered face haunted hazel eyes, and his whiskey-toned voice is tailor-made for Calvin. Elliott can do a lot with a little, and Krzykowski’s script wisely makes Calvin a man of few words. Elliott can play Calvin in his sleep but what’s so captivating about his performance is that he finds new dimensions to bring to him. There’s so much regret in his eyes and voice that despite his stoicism, it’s impossible not to feel the heartache radiating off of him in waves.
This is not a film about simply growing old. It is a film about a man coming to terms with the actions of his life and realizing that despite what he thought at the time, they have had little to no natural consequence. Killing Hitler didn’t stop the Nazis, and his actions, while valued inside the echelons of the government, have brought him nothing but nightmares and loneliness.
Calvin is estranged from his family. His little brother Ed (Larry Miller) is a barber in town. Upon seeing him, he crooks his head and asks if someone else cut his hair. The men are not close, though we sense that both wish they were. Miller, usually used in movies for his comic timing, plays it straight here. He reveals an affecting and tender side that we briefly glimpsed in 10 Things I Hate About You. But to see it on full display, we can’t help but feel for the man whose big brother came home from the war, but he lost him all the same.
Eventually, Bigfoot enters the picture, and much like the Hitler aspect, Krzykowski plays it straight. Neither he nor Ron Livingston’s FBI agent, credited only as Flag Pin, ever dare wink at the audience. Livingston looks Elliott straight in the eye and asks him to kill Bigfoot because he’s infected with a plague that, if not contained, could spell the end of everything.
Calvin just so happens to be conveniently immune to the deathly plague and also a terrific tracker; he did hunt Hitler after all.
Even here, Krzykowski does not go the route one would assume. Though there is a fun little bit where Calvin stands in front of a wall of guns and makes his choices, Vendler’s camera zooms into Elliott’s face as he tosses off a gravelly “That’s it.” But the hunt for Bigfoot is not without complications, and to Calvin’s surprise, Bigfoot himself is not at all what he expected.
Once again, Calvin is being asked to kill something to save the country and the world. Only this time, he’s asked to stop the spread of a plague, not an idea, though the film hints that the two are eerily similar. But Bigfoot is so much more pathetic than years of folklore and campfire stories have made it out to be. His feet are not that big, and the disease seems to be ravaging him. The poor thing is scared and confused.
Krzykowski cuts back and forth in time to show us the stark differences between young Calvin (Aidan Turner) and the present Calvin. Turner’s Calvin is nothing like Elliott’s wearied soul. He wouldn’t be. Turner’s Calvin is a quiet, shy man in love with a schoolteacher Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald). While we see Calvin kill Hitler, we never see how he goes from the stammering shy boy to a military assassin to an older man with more bad memories than good.
I think Krzykowski made the right choice. The point is not how evolution happened but that it happened at all. Not to mention Vendler’s camera does such an excellent job of putting us into Calvin’s headspace that we begin to feel as if Calvin doesn’t want to remember how he lost his innocence. He just wished he was still that young man, that Maxine was still alive, and that he had done things differently.
Vendler’s camera is contemplative as it moves throughout the film with very few flourishes. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is stylish without being overt or gauche. Vendler utilizes color and lighting but does so in a way that doesn’t call attention to itself. It is a gorgeous movie that also happens to have a certain haunted quality to it, maybe it’s not the film itself, but Elliott’s perfectly realized performance.
Whatever it is, the film resonates today. How could it not? It deals with trauma and regret while also commenting on the foolish narrative that one man embodies an idea instead of the messy truth of reality. One man can be a megaphone for an idea, but the idea, like a plague, can spread and cannot be defeated by defeating merely a single person.
But the film offers hope. Calvin kills Bigfoot. This is not a spoiler; it’s in the title. We can stop the spread of the disease. It is possible, but it is never as simple and easy as we hope or want it to be.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is a film that looks at trauma in grief without the trappings of spectacle. While the plot may seem like something out of a dime-store paperback, it is adroit and considerate. If this is Krzykowski’s first film, I can’t wait to see what else he does.
Image courtesy of RLJE Films & Eagle Films
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