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MOVIES: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot - Review [Fantasia 2018]

A grey-haired man sits on a stool, an untouched shot glass full of whiskey on the counter before him. He stares into the mirror over the bar, and suddenly we're transported back to the final days of the Third Reich, where a young man in a Gestapo uniform is granted admission to the private quarters of the most dangerous man in the world. But before we learn what happens, Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott) is jolted back to reality by the bartender. He finishes his drink, exchanges a few pleasantries and shuffles out the door.

This quiet, contemplative soul who ambles around town with his dog would never strike anyone as a fearsome and legendary soldier, but the truth is Calvin is singularly responsible for one of the most heroic and pivotal acts in military history - a secret he often reflects on, all the while contemplating the heavy toll he paid in exchange for serving his country.

When a government agent (Ron Livingston) with knowledge of Calvin's past shows up on his doorstep to recruit him for a top secret operation, it's time for the grizzled veteran to lace up his boots one final time and venture into the Canadian wilderness in search of a dangerous new foe. But will Calvin once again find himself ill-prepared for the sacrifices being asked of him?

Making its world premiere at the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is likely to surprise audiences expecting an over-the-top comedic action film, which is likely the first thought that springs to mind when reading the title. But director Robert Krzykowski (working from his own screenplay) has something entirely different in mind, a somber and often melancholy tale about an old man looking back on his life and wondering what might have happened if he'd made different choices along the way.

Elliott has always been a magnetic onscreen presence, but his recent choices seem indicative of a desire to focus on more character-driven material. As such, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is not only another feather in Elliott's cap that affords him another opportunity to exhibit his impressive range, but it almost feels like the kind of film that his character in The Hero would have wanted to do, making this a somewhat unlikely companion piece.

The Hobbit's Aidan Turner plays Calvin in his younger days, as he courts compassionate schoolteacher Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald) or treks across Europe in search of his quarry, and the weight he carries on his shoulders seems amplified tenfold by Elliott's mournful performance. There's also a striking resemblance between the two actors, which Krzykowski emphasizes more than once by juxtaposing similarly framed shots from both timelines.

If there's one criticism to levy against The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, it's that the inevitable confrontation between Calvin and his mythical quarry is not only underwhelming, but also marred by clumsy fight choreography and subpar special effects that feel at odds with the overall solid production value of the film. It doesn't necessarily ruin the experience, but definitely takes it down a peg or two, so audiences looking forward to an epic showdown would do well to temper those expectations. This film isn't so much about the hunt itself, but rather the broken man behind it, and as a more contemplative character study, it's commendable.

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