In a summer sagging with sequels, remakes and superheroes, you might find yourself yearning for something more original, maybe an outrageous, revisionist World War II flick, preferably showcasing a deep-voiced silver fox, that’s gentle enough to watch with your parents maybe? “The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot” fills that extremely specific bill, and stars Sam Elliott as Calvin Barr, a rueful, heartbroken man reliving his past when, decades later, one last assassination assignment comes calling.
Of course Sam Elliott would star as a man who killed Hitler and then Bigfoot; I think the film may be partially based on Elliott’s real life. When the film opens, Calvin is drinking alone in a bar, and the action flashes back to that time he killed Hitler, using a flask that turns into a gun. The film spends a lot of time in his past, and the tone is so different that it is in some ways two different films.
In the past, Calvin was a reluctant soldier who left behind a girl he wanted to marry (the elegant Caitlin FitzGerald). The nature of his assignment kept him out of contact with his family and his true love, and the film spends a lot of time on their thwarted relationship. Aidan Turner portrays Calvin as a younger man, and gets almost as much screen time as Sam Elliott does. For a movie with that title, there ends up being quite a bit of romance in it.
There is also an unexpected amount of character development. We mostly watch an older man think about what might have been as he walks his dog, doing things like returning a winning lottery ticket he found on the ground and, more tellingly, preventing three thugs from stealing his car by beating the living daylights out of them. Like everything else violent that he does, he does not want to do it. He was going to let them take his wallet, but he needs his car.
So much care is taken with Calvin’s character that we almost forget the second mark is surely coming at some point. He tries to reconnect with his younger brother, a barber, and we get a nice emotional payoff in yet another flashback between the two, when the child says goodbye to his older brother heading off to war.
Then, two mysterious government agents appear at Calvin’s door and the camp elements of a Bigfoot chase emerge. The nameless agents, played by Ron Livingston as an American and Rizwan Manji as a French Canadian who comically asks for clarification about which World War Calvin served in, absurd because of the Hitler element, turn up as classically bureaucratic types.
It turns out that Bigfoot is not just killing individuals in the area, which has so far been covered up as a serial killer story, but that he carries a plague that will wipe out humanity if he isn’t destroyed. Calvin is the only person left with a natural immunity to the plague and must reluctantly pop a cap in Bigfoot.
Somehow this film straddles realism and absurdity and manages to be emotional. The outrageous acts that comprise the film’s title are almost background to the film’s real interests, which is Calvin’s emotional life. It portrays his outsized assassinations with a straight face, and imbues a historical fairy tale with realism. It certainly is an unusual film, and those are in short supply sometimes. While the premise seems to have been summoned from some random plot generator, the characters emerge as distinct and believable, and the viewer becomes emotionally invested in a truly tall tale.
“The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot” is currently available to stream.
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