What’s it worth to you to witness Oscar nominee Sam Elliott covered, iconic mustache dripping, with projectile Bigfoot vomit? The success of The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot hinges on such fantasies you never thought you harbored until you heard about them, such fantasies as a well-respected actor playing a man who first killed Hitler and then later, in his twilight years amidst the everpresent shadows of a lifetime of regret, killed the Bigfoot. Sam Elliott is Calvin Barr, the man who killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot, who in between got a dog and befriended the local barkeep and roughed up a few small town ne’er-do-wells. This is The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. It stars Oscar nominee Sam Elliott.
Calvin Barr spends his evenings drinking at an empty bar then falling asleep in front of an ancient cathode ray tube TV, his mornings taking old man pills with a modest breakfast then asking his dog what they’re going to do that day until it’s time to go back to the bar. One night, his routine’s upended when he’s accosted by some thugs, whom he efficiently dispatches with the hand-to-hand combat training of a man who probably killed Hitler and might later kill the Bigfoot. This scuffle, one very brief action scene in a film with a dearth of action scenes, awakens vivid memories of not only the time he killed Hitler, but of his courtship to a pretty school teacher he planned to marry had he not gone to war, where he’d eventually kill Hitler. This welling up of lost chances stymies the elderly Barr, to the point that he, the film implies, considers suicide, taking out his decorated uniform as if he’s preparing to dress up one last time, thinking better of it and returning the outfit back into his closet. His mundane quotidian resets; he leaves with his dog, a leash and suffocating loneliness to take yet another walk downtown.
Writer-director Robert D. Krzykowski, this being his feature length debut, appears to be attempting a quiet melange of genres he loves to get into the headspace of Calvin Barr—mixing up ’70s grindhouse, historical melodrama and epic Spielbergian sci-fi with an impressive grasp on tone—but the fact that he seems to have no reason to combine them, no anchoring conceit, means that even the most arresting images inevitably slip away under non-sensical plot and ponderous bait-and-switch. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is an exquisitely boring movie, a promise of high-concept adventure that only delivers a stiflingly melancholy ode to the unknown soldier. Barr must live with what he’s done, and that simply is that; his only reward is being conscripted into an operation to, yes, kill the Bigfoot, who apparently carries a doomsday virus that only Barr is immune to.
As somber as the film can be in the face of its ridiculous premise, the wild ideas with which it flirts rarely register as little more than fleeting flexes care of cinematographer Alex Vendler: the silhouette of Barr post-Bigfoot fight against a majestic sylvan backdrop; the overwhelming view of a government facility on the outskirts of the Bigfoot infection radius; the aforementioned spray of vomit showering Elliott with as much abandon as the scene in Mandy in which a Mutant Biker’s aorta empties all over Nicolas Cage’s face. We’re afforded no evidence as to how Barr transformed into the world’s leading Hitler/Bigfoot killer, a super-soldier we’re told is an expert tracker, can speak hundreds of languages, wields endless charm—what background we are given, in flashbacks to Barr’s pre-war courting days, are so treacly and sentimental and painfully ordinary it’s near impossible to gauge why we should even care about Barr at all, besides that he’s played by Sam Elliott, and that he’d go on to kill Hitler and then, later, the Bigfoot.
At one point, Barr admits that killing Hitler actually did nothing to cease the tide of Nazi dominance, that the “idea” of Hitler carried on, living in the minds the man had polluted. It’s a sobering thought, that the ills haunting us today, destroying us in 2019, won’t be undone by one person’s death (preferably while he’s tweeting on the toilet, say), that the harm caused will outlast whoever caused that harm. If only that idea were suffused with a story and with characters that could bear the weight of such history. But in the absence of a depth of character, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot subsists on that title, exists because of that title, alone.
Director: Robert D. Krzykowski
Writer: Robert D. Krzykowski
Starring: Sam Elliott, Larry Miller, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Ron Livingston
Release Date: February 8, 2019
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.