The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot
February 22, 2021
hen Calvin Burr (Sam Elliott), the folklorish hero at the center of The Man Who Killed Hitler and the Bigfoot (2018), says early on in the movie that “it’s nothing like the comic book you thought it would be,” he is in that moment trying to dispel any romanticism around his World War II-ending accomplishment to a couple of men who have found out his long-held secret. But the quote, likely
not incidentally, also confirms what we have by that point in the movie already figured out. That the movie itself, written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Robert D. Krzykowski, is not quite the pulpy, cheekily enjoyable thrill ride its title indirectly promises — though it isn’t without its moments.
When we first meet the 60-something-year-old Calvin (the movie presumably takes place in the 1980s), he’s living a modest, lonesome life in his folksy hometown. He doesn’t have any friends that we see aside from his loyal Golden Lab Ralph and his soft-spoken barber brother Ed (Larry Miller). He’d prefer to keep his past — whose biggest accomplishment has been kept a secret by the government, we learn — behind him, although a run-in with a crew of thugs trying to steal his car in one scene briefly brings his tucked-away action-hero stealth out into the open. (Cool in his sherpa-collared brown-leather jacket and surprisingly light on his feet, he’s a vision of a senior someone who’s still “got it.”) The movie’s first act is its strongest — it's when we’re watching Calvin languidly moving through his humdrum daily routine, quietly reflecting on how things used to be without letting the demons get too loud. Its melancholy rings true; it washes over the action.
The film flounders once government agents come out of the woodwork to try to coax Calvin out of his self-imposed retirement. As carefully as they can, they tell him that they need him to kill — one can take a guess — the long-believed-mythic Bigfoot. (If this movie likes to prove anything, it’s that commonly held-onto truths are actually cover-ups digested as fact.) Perhaps the most unexpected thing about the movie is that its title's jaw-dropping actions feel sudden and tacked-on once they come to the fore; they don’t feel like main events. Calvin’s visitors, curiously credited as Flag Pin and Maple Leaf (Ron Livingston and Rizwan Manji), tell their host it’s imperative he do the job. It isn’t necessarily because he had the chutzpah all those years ago to kill the Führer — though that accomplishment certainly doesn’t hurt — but because the Bigfoot, it’s been found, carries a virus that could spell out humanity’s end. Calvin, they say, is only one of three people in the world whose medical records suggest total immunity— and the other two people aren’t available for the undertaking. Calvin is naturally wary. “I don’t want to kill again — be it beast or man,” he says conclusively.
But is it possible to maintain’s one pride if it ultimately could supplant the world’s collective well-being? While busy, this whole stretch of the movie is dramatically half-hearted, almost mopey. Krzykowski directs the lead-up and finale to the inevitable killing of the not-so-mythical beast with such lethargy that it feels dreamy rather than urgent. It’s like he’d had the title of the movie stuck in his head for a while but didn’t think about how to bring its second part to the screen until there wasn’t very much time before production began.
In keeping with the exploitation movies of the 1970s and ‘80s, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot uses its wordy, eye-catching title methodically: to pique our interest enough to get us to check it out but not feeling the burden of living up to expectations once the opening credits have begun. We do at least get the bloody scenes that make good on the title’s sensationalism. But the feature is less concerned with tongue-in-cheek adventurousness and more with trying to plausibly capture the emotional and psychological terrain of a man who has made these nothing-to-sniff-at achievements — a priority that in the hands of a director more assured than Kryzykowski could turn into a refreshing subversion. But the film is mostly just subversion without a strong-enough vision to take it someplace singular. And you can tell Kryzykowski had wanted to not only successfully exceed our expectations but transcend the limitations of the everyday-superhero-centered B movie. Though it’s easy to admire the effort, he seems confused about exactly what kind of product he’d like to give us.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot feels half-finished as both a pulp adventure and a character study. It undervalues the novelty of a cheap thrill when offered with enough conviction; there isn’t much momentum behind the flashback scenes, which are supposed to give Calvin's present more emotional weight. Presented nonlinearly, scenes from Calvin’s younger years together make a soup without very much consistency. The actor playing a young Calvin, Aidan Turner, doesn’t match Elliott’s taciturn charm — he’s a little bland in stoic action-hero mode, whereas Elliott’s characteristic rugged reticence has persistently suggested a rich interior life in the course of his long and varied career. (Though Turner does look uncannily like Elliott at that age.) While in certain moments the ‘40s-set sequences offer believable bittersweetness, the movie might have been better without them entirely, exclusively depending on Calvin’s wistful recollections of the way things once were to really capture how much the past can weigh on people. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is like a hodgepodge of scenes from different story drafts; it doesn’t cohere. Scatteredness aside, Elliott is so good as the character that I’m nonetheless glad to have spent some time with him. C+