With a title as brazen as ‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot,’ a film is naturally inviting a certain type of viewer and a certain type of expectation for the film itself. It’s an ostentatious announcement, a mixing of alternate-history and pure fantasy, that will lead people to make assumptions about the film before they even see one second of it on their screen. In short: people are going to judge this book by its cover.
Is it even possible to live up to the unrealistically high expectations of this crazy title? It’s right up there with other ultra-descriptive movie titles like ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,’ ‘Cowboys & Aliens,’ ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,’ ‘The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies,’ and even ‘Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.’ Wordy, for the most part. Hyper-descriptive, for the most part. And destined to immensely please part of its audience while wholly turning off another part. Such is the nature of a film with a hyper-targeted title.
What about the film itself, you ask? The trailers and advance info have billed it as a time-spanning sci-fi/action style of film, and you’ll be surprised once you start watching the film to discover that’s not quite the case. Sure, there are moments of this type of story, but they are shockingly few and far between; this film is, in actuality, more about a look at the human condition and the rigors of growing old while looking back on your life and questioning the choices you’ve made. Surprised? I was too.
‘The Man’ himself is Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott), and much of the film takes place in his “present day,” never explicitly stated but assumed to be somewhere in the mid-1980s judging by the physical presentation of the era. Flashbacks early on in the film show us that Barr is a retired military man, and one of his key missions in World War II was in fact to infiltrate the German Third Reich, locate Adolf Hitler, and dispose of him – which Barr did, even though the Germans covered up the Fuhrer’s death at the hands of the Allied Forces and instead fabricated the story of his “actual” suicide/death in 1945. Hitler is the only man that Barr ever killed, and the film takes great care to show how gentle of a man Barr truly is and how this “murder mission” has impacted him mentally.
In the “present day,” the government comes calling again, this time in the form of an unnamed FBI agent (Ron Livingston) and a Canadian official (Rizwan Manji). It seems that The Bigfoot is real: the last of its kind, the creature actually carries a deadly plague and has gone a bit insane late in its life. The Canadian government has isolated the creature in a 50-mile swath of wilderness, but due to the plague’s potency, most humans can’t get near the creature; Barr, however, seems to be one of a select few with a “natural immunity” to the disease, so it’s up to him to slay the best and ostensibly save the world, again.
So, Barr fights the Germans and Hitler, and wins. He fights Bigfoot and, as the title already tells you so no huge spoilers here, wins. These two pieces of the plot largely bookend the film, but it’s the “meat” of the film, where we see Barr humanized and questioning what he’s chosen to do with his life, that really takes the film in an unanticipated direction. Barr spends time with his brother (Larry Miller) and family in an attempt to make up for time lost while Barr was away in the service; flashbacks show us that Barr had fallen in love with a beautiful small-town girl (Caitlin Fitzgerald) shortly before leaving for the war, and the audience experiences the emotional roller-coaster of a couple trying to decide whether to stick it out during an extended absence or not and the long-ranging consequences of the individual’s decisions.
So yes, ‘The Man’ is a very quirky film, but not completely in the way you’d imagine. If a viewer has prepped themselves for a certain type of movie from the title, then the emotional punches come from way out in left-field and likely aren’t at all what one is mentally prepared for. The acting is top-notch; Elliott, of course, makes the film his own, with excellent support from Miller and Aiden Turner, who plays the younger version of Barr in the WWII flashbacks. Fitzgerald is serviceable in her role, although she’s not really given a lot to work with, as the young-lovers dynamic didn’t land for me as impactfully as it seems writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski wanted it to.
All in all, that’s the overall feeling I took away from the film: big ideas, big story, but the execution falls short. Much like a high-wire circus artist who makes it through 90% of his routine before slipping and falling into the safety net, much of what you see in ‘The Man’ is impressive enough, and credit where credit is due for a unique show, but you just may not be as “wow-ed” on the whole as you had hoped you would be.