Sam Elliott knows he’s recognized for roles in Tombstone or The Big Lebowski. And he’s instantly recognizable too, from his trademark mustache to his deep, commanding voice. But as anyone who’s hit the film festival circuit lately knows, Elliott has shown a preference for independent film in the later stages of his career, and indie film loves him back. In fact, not that long ago he had a role written especially for him – it suits him like a lustrous patch of facial hair. It’s called The Hero, and you should definitely check it out.
But at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Sam Elliott is playing a different, and more specific kind of hero: he’s playing the man who killed Hitler, and then the Bigfoot. These bigger-than-life events serve to bookend the man’s career. When we meet Calvin, he’s a tired old man, safe in his routine, happiest at the bottom of a bottle. But one night the FBI shows up at his door, with a delicate problem on their hands. It’s the Bigfoot. He’s patient zero for a world-ending virus, and he’s already decimating populations up in Canada. Calvin, with a reputation for excellent tracking and a specific immunity to the disease, is a last resort. If he can’t stop the Bigfoot, the president is going to nuke Canada to keep himself safe.
I realize that the title alone spells out two really big scenes that you can’t wait to watch (Aidan Turner plays a young Calvin), but the truth is, it’s what’s in between that really matters, to us and to Calvin, who downplays his heroism and manages to come across as a normal, if heartbroken, man. But it’s the specific ways in which he’s broken that’s interesting. It’s the pain in his face, the pain in his body, the way he loses focus and we get drawn into another intense flashback, and after being inundated by all these memories, we start to realize what life has been like for Calvin in between bouts of adventure, and it’s not a beautiful life.
First time director Robert D. Krzykowski evokes the headline of an obituary with his splashy title, but the story focuses more on aging than on adventuring. This is the winding down of a big life and the toll such a life has taken on a man who is, after all, just a man. Sam Elliott is perfect casting, and I have to imagine to a first time director, it’s also dream casting. There’s something deeply satisfying and not a little cathartic in Elliott’s stoic, deadpan acceptance of some pretty absurd situations. And Krzykowski, in love with process, and detail, is more prone to showing the little moments than making a big spectacle. So the most shocking thing about a movie involving the plot to kill humanity’s embodiment of evil AND a mythic monster infected with a doomsday virus is that it’s really not shocking at all. It’s a moody, bittersweet little indie film with a lot to say about every day things.