The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot
There are few things more pleasing than silliness done seriously, what the members of Spinal Tap famously dubbed the thin line between clever and stupid. When a movie falters in this tightrope act, it can be abysmal. It’s a rare film that gets the mashup of tonalities anywhere near as right as The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot.
From the title alone, the film is already a step ahead. Nothing so brazenly named should be taken at face value. Paradoxically, there’s a concision in the long name, telling the audience exactly who this character is before they’ve seen a frame. This is, by scientific definition, the most badass guy in the world. He’s a certified hero. So why, when we meet the gray haired, mustachioed Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott), is he just some old drunk sipping away at the bar, lost in thoughts of the past and the crushing loneliness of the present?
From the first frame, writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski toys with expectations, teasing out just what kind of film this is. Is it a quiet rumination on aging? A pitch-black comedy? A historical drama? Of course, it’s all these things, genres constantly colliding at every step.
What’s transcendent about the movie is its almost sadistic refusal to be the film most audiences may expect. An ellipsis of time when Barr is mano-a-bigfoot in the wilderness excises what for another movie would be a ten minute sequence of carefully stalking a victim. Instead, we get right to the point, emphasizing through pure cinema the lack of rote exposition in favor of character moments that enrich our understanding of Barr rather than churning through scenes we’ve seen before.
The flashback sequences with young Barr (Aidan Turner) are similarly economical, giving a taste of this surreal, ahistorical action that feels as dreamlike, eerie and implausible as the film’s title connotes. A brilliant use of a few props re-emphasizes the heightened nature of these farcical moments, done with a deadly seriousness that’s intoxicating.
This deep commitment to that very subtle tone is especially laudable. Elliott’s performance is shattering and effective. That raspy voice and sinuous air are completely perfect for inhabiting the character. Scenes with Ron Livingston and Rizwan Manji (the latter a Canadian officer named “Maple Leaf”) have a penetrating intensity that’s mind-blowing. All of it is ridiculous (just look at the title!), but in those close-up moments where we see Barr’s nostrils flair and his eyes narrow, that voice tells of a dark past we believe.
The greatest trick this film pulls off is being deadly serious and utterly wackadoodle simultaneously. I’m sure this will not be a movie for many, as it’s too strange for general audiences, not overtly action driven for most genre crowds, and impossible to situate simplistically for the trades. This is a strange beast, a hybrid as bizarre and wonderful as its title.
If you need a bit more prompting to go, it may help to know that Lucky McKee (May) produced the film, while John Sayles and special effects luminary Douglas Trumbull contributed as Executive Producers. An uncredited contribution from Joel Coen and Frances McDormand helped secure Elliott. An ace cast of performers give their all to this strange and twisted vision.
Of course, you shouldn’t need any more prompting. This is a film called The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, for shit’s sake – one of the greatest, silliest, most poetic titles in cinematic history. The movie is emboldened by the scope that title evokes to do the opposite, to craft an introspective, pensive, often moving portrayal of a remarkable man. For many, this may be a dud, but for a few open to its surreal, somber, silly greatness, this film is a towering achievement.