Review by C.J. Bunce
Hollywood doesn’t make a lot of perfect movies, but when they do they jump right out at you. Writer-director Robert D. Krzykowski’s 2018 historical action/fantasy drama, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, isn’t perfect, but it’s the rare ambitious movie that matches its promise. Not marketed well upon its release, it’s actually a tour de force for character actor Sam Elliott, supported by some of your favorite genre actors. That crazy title is like an idea you’d see coming from Quentin Tarantino, but Krzykowski delivers without all the operatic spectacle, something more subtle than Inglourious Basterds. It’s also a study in how to lean into an idea that may sound to others as something preposterous, but forge ahead anyway to adapt it into something exciting and with heart.
Another entry in the “old man” trope along with the likes of Unforgiven, Logan, and The Old Man and the Gun, and a far more fun look at a surprise topic in HBO’s The Last of Us, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is now streaming so everyone can see what they missed.
Sam Elliott is back as his slow-talking, even-keeled, man of wisdom and a drawl, a walrus moustache, and eyebrows of a hawk–the star of The Sacketts and The Shadow Riders who the world took notice of in Mask before he became iconic by way of The Big Lebowski, Ghost Rider, Tombstone, and The Golden Compass. His seemingly effortless demeanor mesmerizes yet again as a former government WWII-era Richard Marcinko type. The Hobbit’s Aidan Turner plays his character–Calvin Barr–in flashbacks to his younger days. No matter what you think the movie sounds like, you’re not going to be able to predict how it’s all carried out. It’s sentimental in an epic, Forrest Gump kind of way. It’s nostalgic, especially for the 1980s, and it maneuvers itself into an even better spin on David Lynch’s brilliant, personal The Straight Story.
Barr lives with his dog in his own home in his retirement years, visiting the local bar for a drink each night. When on one night he is mugged, something awakens within him, something that allows him to revisit his part in Project Valkyrie–the real life plot to kill Hitler. What is fun is that viewers will get the feeling Barr is only giving us a small glimpse of his past. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is the kind of story that at a minimum merits a comic book or novel continuation so we can see his participation in all sorts of historic missions. On the car radio the audience learns about a Bigfoot sighting, and this time Bigfoot is leaving a body count.
Barr regrets his past and wants no part of revisiting the days when he killed as his job. He wants to open a secret box he keeps under his bed, but talks himself out of it. He visits his brother, Ed, a barber played by Larry Miller (10 Things I Hate About You, Monk, Medium) in one of his many brilliant performances. Ed’s a good guy and Elliott and Miller have instant chemistry. Soon Calvin is visited by a pair of feds, including one played by Office Space’s Ron Livingston, a man whose grandfather once told him stories about the unique skill set of Barr, a man who also speaks a dozen languages and is an unparalleled tracker. Can he help with the current serial killer? Caitlin FitzGerald (The Trial of the Chicago 7) co-stars in the film, and has a lovely turn as Calvin’s romantic interest in his war years.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot only has a few flaws keeping it from perfection. Standout is a climactic scene with a bit too much contribution from the horror effects department, a bit of gore in an otherwise reserved and steady film–but it’s only a brief tangent. The pacing is a mix of The Straight Story and Vast of Night, two of the best films ever made. Surprises of creativity and imagination include what the Bigfoot actually is and what it stands for, how the director uses regret and roads not taken as a theme that overlaps with a brush with myths and legends, about covered-up truths, about journeys with cool dogs, and about not giving up or giving in.
Elliott can’t be beat. In a parallel world we may have known Sam Elliott as the star of all the Clint Eastwood movies. We certainly could stand to have many more films from this incredible actor to see for the first time or for the twelfth time. Director Robert D. Krzykowski hasn’t made many movies, but he would do us all a favor by making many more. Here he leaves behind his own unanswered mystery, Charles Foster Kane style. The movie approaches, but doesn’t quite touch, the grandeur of High Noon, The Straight Story, and Logan. But I don’t think it’s wrong to say Krzykowski’s light touch works well–he does it better than Clint Eastwood as director of his much lauded but similarly themed Unforgiven, and it’s better than both of the True Grit movies.
If you missed it when it slipped in under the radar back in 2018, don’t miss it now. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is streaming on the free streaming service Tubi TV, or catch it on digital of home media here at Amazon.