Aidan Turner (The Hobbit franchise, TV’s Poldark), dressed in an SS uniform, makes his way through a Nazi stronghold, assembling a pistol from a pocket flask and other harmless-looking items from his pockets. Swastika insignias adorn everything. The hands of his watch are a swastika. There’s something undeniably James Bond-like about the whole thing. Then Turner makes his way into a large private study, where without fanfare he puts one right between Hitler’s eyes. And yet perversely, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot doesn’t really tell you what the movie’s about. Yes, the movie’s hero did kill Hitler, and yes, he does go on to kill the Bigfoot. And no, that’s not really what the movie’s really about.
The title suggests a pulp horror story from a writer with an unusually puckish sense of humor; something along the lines of They Saved Hitler’s Brain. And although writer/director Robert Krzykowski, a comic book artist himself, among other things, has too finely honed an appreciation for pulp and genre not to deliver the goods where the provocative title is concerned, he also, thankfully, avoids the temptation to slip into Tarantino territory. This adamantly isn’t an over-the-top comic book like Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained, where history is nothing more than a springboard for splatterpunk action sequences.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is also squarely in the gunfighter-who-wants-to-hang-up-his-guns Western subgenre, a staple in the days when audiences were accustomed to Westerns. And when we next see our hero, Calvin Barr, he is sitting quietly in a small town bar, embodied by a perfectly cast Sam Elliott, who has long been Hollywood’s go-to guy for cowboys and professional soldiers. (Turner, who is playing the younger Barr, does a commendable job of evoking the sense of a younger Elliott.)
Despite its modest budget, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot does a credible job of recreating the World War II milieu, perhaps owing to contributions from Krzykowski’s mentor Douglas Trumbull, the special effects artist who created the still-impressive effects for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, who co-produced with another of Krzykowski’s mentors, John Sayles. DP Alex Vendler’s cinematography compares well with far higher budget productions.
Decades after the war, Barr lives a quiet life alone with his dog in a New England town, which is situated artistically somewhere between Norman Rockwell and Stephen King. That even as a senior citizen he isn’t to be t akenlightly is soon established when some local punks try to mug him.
When a series of mysterious deaths shake Barr’s small town, Barr finds himself tracked down by agents from the FBI (Ron Livingston) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Rizwan Manji), who cajole him out of retirement to track down the Bigfoot, who is of course at the bottom of the whole thing, though not in the way you’d expect.
Elliott, currently nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born, is a genuine Hollywood treasure, and not only shines as Barr, but takes full ownership of the role. Krzykowski in fact has even admitted that storyboard art in pre-production resembled Elliott. His quietly insightful performance here provides a dimension of poignant insight that elevates it beyond derivative high concept hokum.
The juxtaposition of real human monster with mythical monster has of course been done before – the Indiana Jones movies do this sort of thing routinely. But in between the action sequences, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is a surprisingly quiet and often introspective character study of an unknown hero. And such men are not just characters in movies – I recently had lunch in a local Hooters, where a chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders were taking a World War II veteran to lunch for his 97th birthday. He’d never been to a Hooters and it was a small ambition of his. And he’d lived most of his life quietly in his home town, where, one suspects, few knew about his wartime years.
The most unexpected thing about The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is its awareness of those quiet heroes among us, and the unreserved respect it gives them.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot will be released in theaters and on Video on Demand and Digital HD on February 8th, 2018.