[Review] The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot
If you had told me, a mere six months ago, that a movie entitled The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot would have left me with moist eyes, I would have scoffed in your general direction. The title alone begs for the kind of attention that the 70s exploitation and grindhouse films would have elicited. It speaks to ridiculousness. To larger than life storytelling. To a crazed, revisionist history lesson mixed with an audacious creature feature.
And yet, reader. The movie got to me.
Hitler/Bigfoot begins with an old man named Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott), drinking by himself at a small bar in the 80s. A commotion causes his glass of whiskey to shake and he immediately starts to reminisce about his past where a young Calvin Barr (this time played by Aidan Turner) is on a secret mission to kill Hitler. Through the first half of the film, we follow the past Calvin as he prepares and, ultimately, kills Hitler and the 80s Calvin as he thinks back on his secret life.
We see Calvin fall for a school teacher named Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald) before he goes on his assignment in the past, while the elder version pets his dog, gets a haircut from his younger brother Ed (Larry Miller), and deals with his haunted past. Meanwhile, Flag Pin (Ron Livingston) from the FBI and Maple Leaf (Rizwan Manji) from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, have been tracking Calvin for another top secret mission. Turns out Bigfoot is real, lives in Canada and is the carrier of a lethal virus that could wipe out mankind. What follows is a crisscrossing story as we follow Calvin on two separate missions to save the world.
Hitler/Bigfoot has a compelling structure that subverts narrative expectations. The first half shows an at-home elder Calvin looking back on his life while the younger Calvin kills Hitler. And the second half flips the plot device, by showing the younger Calvin at home and the elder Calvin on the hunt, again. And while the movie does give moments of pure exploitation goodness, it’s not as content to wallow in the genre trappings as you’d immediately expect. I can see some people coming into this movie with specific expectations and leaving unfulfilled. For all the audaciousness the title promises, the end product is a more somber and dour film that tenderly examines the notion of heroism and American myths.
World War II has become an almost mythological event, pitting giant superpowers and heroes against the most devilish villains and bigotry. Between the countless movies, television series and games, we tend to think of it in caricatures. Between rewriting history in Inglourious Basterds and his many portrayals in a variety of media, Hitler has become an almost mythological creature, which writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski uses as a contrast to an actual mythological creature, The Bigfoot. And while viewers might come to this movie looking for two climactic showdowns with each, what they’re given is a deflated myth. Hitler is killed with two quick shots. The not-so-big Bigfoot after a brief tussle. Because that’s kind of the point; bigger than life personalities, reduced to the small events. The power of myth-making versus the “truth.”
Sam Elliott is perfectly cast as Calvin, a man so haunted by his past deeds and yet unable to discuss them with another living soul. I don’t think this movie would work with a different actor. He brings such pathos to the role and takes everything seriously, even as he scuffles with a legendary creature.
But what I find most fascinating is the grief Calvin deals with. Sure, he killed Hitler and saved the world. But he realizes that, in the grand scheme of things, this war didn’t solve anything. He compares Hitler to a costume in a fantastic, heartfelt monologue, saying, “That day I just killed a man. What he stood for was unstoppable…what do you think that little mustache was for. The hair. The uniform. The entire look. It was a costume.” Killing Hitler didn’t stop the war; didn’t stop the evil. And you realize everything Calvin personally lost, signified by the love-of-his-life and his younger brother, and wonder whether it was ultimately worth it. He did what he was told to, out of obligation. And he does it again.
But what got me misty-eyed, readers, is what The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot had me thinking about. I thought about my late grandfather, who had a dent in his bald head from where shrapnel from a mortar blast would have killed him, if it weren’t for his helmet. He never really spoke about his time in World War II, though he was there for some of the biggest events. I remember that outside of anecdotes, he kept most of his experiences hidden away from his family, even though I know it weighed on him. I wonder what he thought about the war, seeing that while the battle was won, the hate and ideologies he fought against still existed.
I wondered how many of his own myth-making stories he kept hidden behind those kind, stoic eyes.