FANTASIA 2018 REVIEW: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot
World Premiere and Official Selection of the 22nd Fantastia International Film Festival
THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT — 4 STARS
Pause for a second and consider your first impression when you read the film title The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. It’s a mouthful akin to the Hugh Grant flick The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, yet registers as an absolute head-turner considering the notorious names included. Next, consider the source. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot world premiered at the 22nd Fantasia International Film Festival, the world’s largest annual gathering of genre films. Finally, look at the headlining lead of national treasure and renowned tough guy Sam Elliott. Putting all of those first impressions together now raises your eyebrows to picture something wild and crazy like the second coming of the 2011 Rutger Hauer grindhouse vehicle Hobo with a Shotgun.
After all that, you will color yourself impressed by the unexpected power of this independent film to subvert expectations with such cunning dexterity. No matter if it’s zero budget devil-may-care freedom or a nine-figure open blockbuster checkbook, few movies on any level could ever dream a way this damn good to marry and blend stoic manliness and a whimsical romance on top of the lurid exploits its title advertises. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot punches with pulp and grinds gravitas rather than gore.
Calvin Parr (Elliott) is an old man creaky in his joints and carrying a weary mind to the barstool he has chosen. Adorned with spectacles on top of his rugged white-haired handsomeness, he’s the kind of man who has yarns to tell, but doesn’t. Seeing himself in the mirror behind the bar gives him pause, one Calvin has likely made a routine of experiencing to psyche himself into or out of the mental place his thoughts take him. His self-focused stares trigger flashbacks showing the foundation and establishing chapters of those untold stories.
His younger self, played by The Hobbit trilogy’s Aidan Turner, was a veteran of World War II, the lucky beau of a beautiful, saintly, and confident third grader teacher named Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald of Masters of Sex), and idol to an impressionable younger brother barber (the long-lost character actor Larry Miller) back home. Observing the collateral damage of the Third Reich, these flickered moments of memory show Calvin in disguise as a Nazi officer stepping into headquarters and scoring an appointment with the feared Führer himself. Whatever survival choices happened created sullen regret and a distaste for death within the senior man of the present. Calvin has a special locked wooden box under his bed, a decorated uniform in the back of his closet, and a military medal in a button jar to prove it.
A visiting pair of investigative spooks, one American (Ron Livingston) and one Canadian (Rizwan Manji from Mr. Robot), witness that Calvin still has the fierce beef and bite when necessary to defend himself and dispatch a pack of would-be muggers. Seeking his mythic reputation as a tracker and killer, the two suits present Calvin a special assignment to take down a beastly creature with many names and larger than usual footprints. He embarks on a hunt that turns matters ballsy and surreal, which couldn’t be more awesome.
In his feature debut, writer-director Robert D. Krzykowski ingeniously paints the preposterous with poignancy at every methodical step of the way. One must truly complement the script’s depth to build and blend its wide-ranging angles and tones. The peaks and valleys, stretching between reflective passion and visceral tension, Krzykowski squeezes out of this madcap yet original cocktail napkin of a concept are tremendous. His structure is aided greatly by impressive production value and artistic talent gathered for this smaller tier of indie film.
One of the more perfect touches comes from Joe Kraemer, the frequent blockbuster composer for Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher) penning the original score. His tuned musical motifs tap into a David Shire-esque zone of menace and intrigue fitting of the era and couples with crisp ambient sound captured by mixer Hugh Holesome and designer Andrew Smetek. Visually, the solid shot variation from veteran director of photography Alex Vendler (Blood Money, Melvin Goes to Dinner) grabs all kinds of rich color and highlights the stellar period production design of Brett Hatcher, an experience set dresser and assistant working on his second feature in the top chair. The icing on the cake to bring the fantasy to life comes from the effective mix of practical and subtle visual effects from the three-time Oscar nominees and old school Blade Runner team of Richard Yuricich and Douglas Trumbull. There’s a polish to all of this that few would expect to be here.
The true cementing force of The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is Sam Elliott. Like Brett Haley’s The Hero a year ago, this role feels tailor-made for mustached actor and his aura. Elliott is not just letting his voice stand for the toughness required for the role. The 73-year-old is out there getting his hands dirty, taking punches, and tumbling in and out of stunts. However, when his words do come forth, powered by his heavy register, they linger like pungent incense in a Catholic church. To hear him tell Calvin’s harrowing chestnuts rattles you to the marrow. The way Sam Elliott presses certain lines with inflection and chooses his verbal cadence of pauses and pacing is masterful. If he wasn’t already, Sam Elliott should be your top reason to seek this untamed tall tale for yourself.
LESSON #1: DON’T F — K WITH SENIOR CITIZENS — You don’t know what’s behind the quiet gray and unassuming slouch. They may look old and weak, but some can retort with all of their conventions and kick your ass with vigor. Opposite to the usual expression, Calvin’s mind is the last thing, instead of the first thing, to go. His sharpness shouldn’t be underestimated as well. This lesson could also be rewritten “Don’t f — k with Sam Elliott.”
LESSON #2: PRINCIPLES EQUAL TOUGHNESS — The soft underside to that steely edge of Lesson #1 is Calvin Parr’s proper principles. He is truly a product of the Greatest Generation. Calvin is mindful and dignified at all times. He took no extra pride in the necessary violence dealt by his hand. That unflinching willpower and similar strict character traits are what exhibits toughness just as strongly as physical constitution.
LESSON #3: LEGENDS ESCHEWING LEGACIES — Make no mistake, Calvin Barr’s perilous actions make him a legend. Not everyone who does something historic wants to be part of history. Just look at astronaut Neil Armstrong who avoided much of the limelight after Apollo 11 for decades. Never a braggart, Barr is cut from that same cloth. The world would embrace and celebrate the man with these two titular notches in his belt. Instead, Calvin is a man who just thinks about what might have been, how he could have lived better, and helped more.