Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot

After seeing The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (trailer), I said to one of my fellow film-goers that, “I’m going to have to think about this movie a bit, which is not something I expected to say when going to see The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot.”

The synopsis of the movie is the title itself: Sam Elliott is the titular man who killed Hitler and, many years later, is tasked with killing Bigfoot. The movie explains/handwaves the story of Hitler committing suicide in his bunker and offers a feeble but serviceable explanation as to why Elliott has to be the one to hunt the Bigfoot, but those don’t really matter. The movie’s focus isn’t on, well, anything past the first two words of the title. Rather than be a historical fantasy/fantasy adventure hybrid, the movie’s a meditation upon aging, loss, and guilt. Instead of trying to invent a mythic figure, it looks at the weight and despair that comes from being that mythic figure.

In other words, the movie’s not in any way campy, which was a real surprise.

I went into the movie based on the title and that it starred Sam Elliott. I had the expectation that this would be a ridiculous, over-the-top, wild ride. Within the first minute it was clear that the movie would not be as silly as I expected. I still thought there would be grindhouse/exploitation nods, but I went from thinking I was going to see Hobo With a Shotgun to thinking I was going to see something between Black Dynamite and Bubba Ho-Tep.

Bubba Ho-Tep, for those unfamiliar, is a 2002 film where Elvis (who didn't die but instead had traded places with an impersonator years before) and JFK (whose brain had been transferred into the body of a black man) are living in a nursing home that’s being haunted by a redneck mummy (the titular Bubba Ho-Tep). The two have to team up and save their fellow residents from the monster. A ridiculous concept, campy from the start, and Bruce Campbell is playing Elvis which guarantees some Stooges-level slapstick. What makes the movie stand out is that on top of its absurd concept pushed to its limit is that it’s also a meditation on aging, legacies, and both what is owed to and owed by us at the end of our lives. What should just be a disposable monster movie ends up being a piece with a lot of depth.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot goes a step further by eschewing all the gags and silliness you’d expect from a film like this. Not only is everything played straight, it’s done with a calm, deliberate tone. Mandy, at least its first act, may be another comparison in terms of tone vs. expectation, but that movie does become the off-the-rails acid-drenched revenge epic promised in the trailers (and is, by the way, excellent. Easily one of the best films of last year). The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot, even though the events of the movie are literally what’s in the title, doesn’t ever become the movie suggested by the title.

I really liked it and would recommend it as long as you know you’re not in for a popcorn-fueled adventure. The movie does have its flaws. When the movie leans a bit too close to the genre film it could be, you get that fine whiff of cheese, and there’s a good portion that’s done in flashback. Fortunately they don’t try to digitally de-age Sam Elliott, but you’re faced with the difficulty of having someone play a young Sam Elliott. Those are big shoes to fill and the actor, Aidan Turner, while not bad, doesn’t quite clear the bar. Likewise, his love interest, Caitlin FitzGerald, feels a bit flat, the relationship stuff a little stagy. This suggests the problem lies with the writer/director and not the actors, though. On the other hand, you can tell Elliott is giving more than he’s being asked and he nudges the quality of the film up just that much more.

But again, it’s a good movie and I recommend seeing it if you get the chance. It’s already available for rental on various streaming platforms, but I’m someone who’d always recommend seeing a movie in a theater. This one has nice cinematography and set design that benefits from being on the big screen.

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