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Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Exactly the movie it sounds like and better."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The latter part of Sam Elliott's career has been a lot of movies like "The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot" - not so much the high-concept premise of the title, but the look at a man slowly winding down, because though Elliott has a craggy face and a reassuring voice, he's vital enough to have been getting old for some time. That the film is about the aging as much as the adventure, if not more so, is what makes it such a delight. Well, that and watching Elliott inhabit this absurd but utterly believable role.

He plays Calvin Barr, a man who, circa 1990 or so, lives in the same small town where he grew up, and is finding himself more and more likely to slip back to those times when given a moment inside his own head. Sometimes that's bittersweet, as he remembers wooing Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), a pretty schoolteacher and the love of his life; other times it's darker as he remembers the secret missions his younger self (Aidan Turner) was sent on during the war. They're still classified today, but someone remembers them, as a representative of the American government (Ron Livingston) and one from Canada (Rizwan Manij) visit him with one last mission: Bigfoot is the carrier of a doomsday virus, and Barr is one of only three people known to be immune. The creature must be put down before he reaches a populated area.

The scene at Barr's kitchen table where this is spelled out is genuine deadpan perfection, played completely straight even as it gives the audience plenty of moments to laugh at the utter absurdity of the job. Writer/director Robert D. Krzyskoski and company pull an outstanding bit of gear-shifting here, allowing this scene to move from something genuinely emotional as Barr makes it clear that his previous exploits aren't something he's proud of to one character humorously reacting to what he's hearing to being all business. Both this scene and the bits of action as Barr follows his orders through are a sort of self-aware pulp we don't often see, fun for the audience but trying for those involved. There's whimsy to them, but they clearly carry genuine weight to those involved.

Those moments are important, but they aren't the heart of the movie. Instead, the film works in large part because of the conversations Barr has with his loved ones. In the past, that's Maxine, a love-affair that plays out in sweet, chaste fashion; they are two kind people who find themselves talking about how the world around them is growing dark, and what doing right means in such times. In the present, it's Ed (Larry Miller), Calvin's younger brother and the town barber, who in many ways still seems to be the kid briefly glimpsed in the past, gentle and a little in awe of his brother, but who has lived a life just as full. Ed sees the value in what Calvin's heroism has allowed to flourish, even if the man himself sometimes can't.

Caitlin FitzGerald and Larry Miller are both excellent in those roles (I'm trying to think of any other time Miller has played a part this earnest despite being a near-perfect fit), as are Ron Livingston and Rizwan Manji as the odd couple of government officials tasking old Calvin with his mission, but it's the two men who play the title character that naturally stand out. Elliott quietly embraces all of the contradictions of the elder Barr, still spry but also slowed down, looking chiseled and cool but also often seeming to be near tears. Aidan Turner may actually get more screen time, and he's got the tougher job in some ways - it's hard to show simple decency without also looking unsophisticated, and though there's a passing resemblance between him and Elliott (especially once he's grown a full beard and had it pared back to a mustache), he doesn't imitate the famous voice. There's a sense to both versions of men who can shoulder a burden, but cursed in part because they find it a burden.

There's a lot of introspection here, and sometimes Krzykowski goes a bit overboard in his transitions, but he doesn't wallow, making a brisk film that doesn't waste much time. That efficiency probably also helps him to put a whole bunch of a small budget on-screen: Maybe small-town America isn't that hard, but the World War II sequences are elaborate in just the right places to be enveloping, and the Bigfoot sequence, aside from suddenly being colorful and vibrant in a way that other scenes weren't, is brilliantly terse, not drawn out into a grander finale than it should be. All of it is likely given a huge assist by having visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull overseeing that aspect of the film - though the effects work is close to seamless, it's also clearly old-school in a lot of places, with matte paintings, miniatures, and a Bigfoot that holds up fine to daylight. It adds to the classic, nostalgic feel to the film without compromising quality.

In that way, "The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot" becomes an interesting combination of old-school masters with the genre-savvy work of someone making his first feature. It seems like an odd fit, and something that could easily be silly, but instead it's kind of beautiful. Believe it or not.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32393&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/21/18 11:28:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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