Despite its long and lurid title, The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot isn’t an over-the-top mishmash of cryptozoology and combat. It’s a small story, a quiet tale about an ordinary man who has done extraordinary things and now, he’s growing old.
It would be easy to view Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott and Aidan Turner as old and young Calvin, respectively) as a superhero. If that’s what he is, then this story deals with his true identity. Barr is far from being super, though. He is a quiet man, living alone with his dog, Barr has to deal with his past, memories and flashbacks bubbling up at inopportune moments. Regrets bubble up within him as he ages. Even the bartender at Barr’s favorite watering hole can’t figure out why the old man hasn’t scurried off to Florida yet instead of staying in the small town he lives in. Barr’s younger brother, Ed (Larry Miller), tries to punch through Barr’s rough exterior to no avail. Calvin Barr has secrets to keep.
It isn’t until Barr is visited late at night by two government officials (Ron Livingston and Rizwan Manji) that things threaten to spiral out of control. They know Barr did some crazy things during World War II (like killing Adolf Hitler) and have decided, both emotionally and scientifically, that Barr is the only man who can pull it off. Sending an old man into a hot zone seems like a terrible idea, and Barr initially balks. After some thought, though, he agrees.
That’s a really basic synopsis of the story, but there’s so much more to The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot than the title implies. This is a poignant film, driven by nuanced and understated performances. Aidan Turner portrays young Calvin Barr with the intensity of hopefulness. He doesn’t like being ripped away from his normal existence and his gorgeous girlfriend, Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald). It is especially hard for him to come home and never be able to tell anyone about the things he has done. He is a hero, but no one will ever know about it.
This is Sam Elliott’s movie, though. With his white hair and gravelly voice, Elliott is a compelling performer. It’s hard to look away from him, and he brings a stoic gravitas to this part. He is utterly believable. You can see the pain and loss in his eyes. If Barr were something more than human, he would be less of a character, more of a caricature. But Elliott grounds Barr, and he feels real. It’s his ordinariness that anchors the movie. There are no power poses, no arms akimbo as he takes out his foe. He’s just a guy who falls asleep in his chair while reading.
We get Barr’s full story as the film transitions between past and present, parts of it told in flashback. Written, produced, and directed by Robert D. Krzykowski, The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot is fully fleshed out. It is gorgeously filmed, with lush greens and muted interior colors. The musical score by Joe Kraemer is a standout.
The Bigfoot part comes out of left field. While it serves as a great revelation about Barr’s character, most of that through a monologue from Elliott, it is a weird twist in the tale. I don’t dislike it, but it feels like a strange combination of Rambo and Cloverfield. I’m not even sure it was necessary. This could have been The Man who Killed Hitler and then Went Home, and that would have been fine.
But the amazing things that Barr does aren’t really a large part of the story. This is about the small things. The regrets we hold close to the chest. The memories we can’t shake. The fact that as we get older, there are going to be aspects of our lives we will not be able to resolve. The trick is to be all right with yourself, no matter what you’ve done, even if that includes killing both Hitler and the Bigfoot.
The title is exploitative and accurate, but this is really a drama, and a sweet one, at that. It’s a bit unbelievable at times, but we’ve all done things others wouldn’t believe, haven’t we? Maybe that’s the real message. You never know the real stories of the people you meet. They might be The Man Who… well, you know.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot is in theaters, VOD, and Digital HD February 8, 2019, from Epic Pictures.