You hear a title like The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot and you might get a certain idea in your head about what kind of movie you’re walking into. You probably think silly, campy, maybe with a dash of grindhouse (especially after you see the gorgeous poster.) You would be wrong. This Sam Elliott showcase isn’t the camp creature feature you’re expecting, it’s something much more interesting, if perhaps not as fun.
The feature debut from writer/director Robert Krzykowski technically lives up to its title — Elliott stars as a man who, many years ago, killed Hitler and ultimately kills Bigfoot — but the end result is much more pensive and lyrical than the cheeky title lets on. Instead of a midnight movie, we get a meditative drama that hones in on regret, infamy, and the legacy of violence.
Elliott is Calvin Barr, the titular man; a lonely, aging veteran who quietly bides his time in solitude and reflection, chatting with the local bartender (which might happen a little too often) at night and wandering about town with his dog by day. He’s a sad old man; not the triumphant, mythic badass you’d expect to see in the man who killed Fuhrer, and between his moments of solitude, he remembers the incidents from his past — including the assassination — that brought him to this life of stoic sadness.
When he remembers, we share the moment with him, bouncing between the present and flashbacks to the younger Calvin (Aidan Turner, doing a damn fine young Sam Elliott without seeming like an impersonator), when he as a solider in World War II. A surprising amount of the film hones in onto how that service comes between a romance with the lovely Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), a charming young woman he would have married if he wasn’t struck with the curse of being a hero. But a hero he is, begrudging or no, and we follow him through his time at war, which isn’t quite the alternate history you think (he does kill Hitler, but how that fits into our reality is explained with a clever, thematically rich touch.)
The film hinges two moments of great service and sacrifice –nwhen he is called on to kill Hitler as a young soldier and, years later, when he’s called on to kill Bigfoot as a grizzled veteran — but it doesn’t spend much screen time on those “accomplishments.” In fact, his legendary feats are a curse, and Calvin takes on both of these missions with sadness and severity, learning the hard way that there’s a man behind every myth and it’s a lot easier to kill a man than an idea.
Kryzkowski’s leans into heavy dialogue and slow-burn suspense, which works about half the time. Elliott does a magnificent job carrying the film even through the slow bits, shrugging under the weight of greatness and regret always on his shoulders, and Turner matches him with his dialogue action in the flashbacks, but the constant rumination veers into indulgence, making otherwise poignant moments feel bloated and overwrought. Unfortunately, the dual timeline structure does little to carry that weight, bouncing between emotional moments before you can fully invest. It makes for some great vignettes, including a “cursed” straight razor shave early in the film, but the impact of Calvin’s lost love doesn’t hit as hard without the time to fall in love with the couple.