EDITOR’S NOTE: In the spirit of writing significantly shorter pieces (i.e., not fourteen pages long) I would like to kick off a new phase of Snooty Film Critiques with a revision of my piece on The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot… now slightly abridged.
When the title of your movie is a whopping eleven-syllable salute to exhibitionism like ‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot,’ I would argue that it’s not unreasonable to expect it to feature Bigfoot prominently, or even occasionally. Curiously, this debut feature for writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski – which premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montréal last July – has surprisingly little to do with Bigfoot. Or anything at all, for that matter.
Sam Elliot stars as aging WWII vet Calvin Barr, a man who, unbeknownst to most of the world, once assassinated Hitler. He is not an American hero, he does not drink for free at every bar in the country, and women are not lining up outside his house draped in nothing but star-spangled banners. He lives a dull, lonely, suburban life marked by routine and tedium. Over the course of the movie we become well-acquainted with the minutiae of Barr’s life – he eats breakfast alone, gets his haircut, returns stray lotto tickets he finds on the sidewalk, reflects on old regrets, and tries to fish troublesome pebbles out of his shoe. None of this, by the way, amounts to a hill of gerbil turds character-wise nor does it propel the plot towards any discernible destination.
The first half of this supposed drama is bloated, lagging, and stitched together by randomly-assembled scenes involving Barr doing things like eating breakfast alone, getting his haircut, returning stray lotto tickets he finds on the sidewalk, reflecting on old regrets, and trying to fish troublesome pebbles out of his shoe. If you noticed that I recycled a line from my last paragraph nearly verbatim, it’s because I wanted to demonstrate this movie’s nasty habit of repeating information at us. This is especially evident with the WWII flashbacks, which I’m not convinced were even inserted in the correct order. The first showcases young Calvin Barr infiltrating the Führer’s secret headquarters, where he presumably intends to off the bastard. The next, however, shows him cavorting with some omen-dispensing gypsies in the European countryside and honing in on the Führer’s lair, which is unnecessary because we’ve already seen him do that. The final involves Barr, at last, killing the Führer. These flashbacks play out exactly as you’d expect and offer no fresh insight into the man, the myth, the legend, Calvin Barr. See, the entire purpose of a flashback is to contextualize the protagonist’s journey in the present-day storyline or reveal some new insight or detail that couldn’t be conveyed otherwise, but here they serve little purpose other than to pad the runtime and give viewers long windows to nip to the bathroom and maybe enjoy a long toke while they’re at it.
By the time Barr accepts his mission to hunt down Bigfoot – the proverbial promise of the premise – we’ve hit the bloody fifty-five-minute mark and are staring down the barrel of the finale. Barr grimly chooses his weapons, enters the quarantined perimeter of raw Canadian wilderness where the ‘Squatch was last sighted, the music swells to a crescendo, and we abruptly smash-cut to black. We open again just in time to spy Barr taking his first shot at poor Bigfoot – a critical hit that provides a lovely trail of blood for him to follow and complete the kill. This is the equivalent of Jaws cutting straight from the launching of the Orca to Sheriff Brody quipping “Smile, you son of a bitch” because Spielberg wasted all his footage on flashbacks of Quint’s childhood paper route. The entire sequence that should have been the meat and potatoes of the plot is glossed over in scarcely fifteen minutes, at which point we’re still left with twenty-five additional minutes of inconsequential nothingness before the credits roll. Pardon me, but if you’re going to call your movie The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, you should probably make the killing of Hitler impactful and remember to actually include the hunting of Bigfoot in your shooting schedule, considering those are the two things we all tuned in for.
Of course, I realize that a drama with a title this ostentatious is bound to be centered on the eponymous man who killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot, not the actual killing of Hitler and the Bigfoot themselves. We already know that those named events are going to unfold – therefore, any focus on them will be in service to a character-centric story about a tormented old man who is chosen for one clandestine mission based on his success in carrying out another. Technically, this is what the movie does – it just does it wrong by focusing too heavily on irrelevant flashbacks, repeating information, and failing to give us any insight into who its hero might be.
Now, in the spirit of generosity, I will note that there were some interesting ideas at play here that, in a better edit, might have worked. The first is Bigfoot himself, who is depicted as an emaciated, disease-ridden creature who has more in common with Gollum or something barfed out by David Cronenberg than traditional representations of Sasquatch. It’s a unique angle that might have been more impactful had his presence in the movie bearing his name been more than a fleeting cameo. The other is a singular, absolutely riveting scene in which Barr recounts how he killed Hitler, how the Nazis covered it up by using body doubles, and how the war was won in the way history remembers it by real heroes. His efforts didn’t matter and the government made him into a hitman for nothing. “What I did that day didn’t mean a thing,” Barr says to special agent Ron Livingston. “I just killed a man. The monster lived on.” It’s a chilling scene, and had the rest of the movie been made competently, it may have even been an effective one.
Though its title may certainly attract some curious cinephiles, TMWKHATTB is messy, poorly-assembled, and a waste of its own premise. A more apt and equally eyebrow-arching title might have been ‘The Man Who Walked His Dog for a Little While, Briefly Contemplated Suicide, and Then Went to Bed.’