Jacob Richardson | 20/11/2020
A bonkers concept, wildly mis-executed, with flashes of brilliance.
Strap yourself in. In this MA15+ rated Christmas film, Chris Cringle, aka Santa Claus (Mel Gibson), is funded by the US Government. He struggles to make his quotas with the number of bad kids getting coal, and with supply side economics issues. To make up the fiscal shortfall, Chris signs a contract with the US Military to make control panels for fighter jets in the 2 months after Christmas. At the same time, young Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) gets a lump of coal in his stocking for torturing a young girl in his class who beat him in a science contest. He hires a hitman (Walton Goggins) to track Santa down and take his head - a serendipitous pairing as the hitman also has long held issues with the fat man. The film builds to a bloody, bullet ridden conclusion as Santa must face off against yet another assassin who has come for the legend.
Eshom and Ian Nelms helm this Christmas film that breaks the mould of our traditional Christmas fare, but you would be forgiven for thinking that 18 different directors took cracks at different scenes in this movie, because the feel shifts so frequently and wildly. Sometimes, Fatman feels like Home Alone, with fun and antics and just a hint of darkness. Sometimes, it feels like No Country for Old Men, or a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Sometimes it feels like a hip indie movie, with one particular scene of our assassin on the road bringing a Drive vibe that feels utterly removed from the more hokey elements of the movie. This hodge podge of directorial styles confuses more so than infuriates, and makes it hard to get a grip on what this movie is meant to be.
Similarly, it is tough to get a handle on who the film is for. With an MA15+ rating, and occasional flashes of hyperviolence and swearing, this will never play to a kid friendly audience, but it isn’t remotely close to the same vein as a Bad Santa. The benefits of the rating are also used quite sparingly, and while there are flashes of brilliance (Goggins screaming that he’s looking for “mother f***ing Santa Claus” is a particular highlight), Fatman never really capitalises on the opportunities afforded it by pumping up that rating.
The film builds to a number of payoff opportunities that it rarely succeeds in hitting. This should be a fun, pulpy B-movie, generating a cult following for decades to come, but somewhat unsure of itself, it pulls its punches. In doing so, it does itself a great disservice, because while the plot and concept is patently insane, in assured directorial hands this could have really been something great.
The bones of such a great film are here already. There are occasional great lines, evoking a John Wick style of one-liners and violence, despite the convoluted plotting. A couple of the shocks pay off too, especially the ending to a gun battle towards the finale (that is unfortunately subverted only a few minutes later). The highlight is undoubtedly Mel Gibson, whose gruff, grizzled and depressed take on Santa Claus feels absolutely right for our times. Disenchanted with the state of society, capitalistic endeavours and the military industrial complex, while also hard drinking, and with a love of gingerbread cookies from his wife, Santa in this film is a lost character adrift in a sea of nostalgia. Both Goggins and Gibson give their performances a lot of effort, and while Goggins feels somewhat over the top, Gibson peppers a good performance with flashes of a brilliant one. He carries this material, whether its tears filling his eyes as he explains to his elves the need for their new production direction, or the vengeance in them when he comes face to face with the young man out to get him.
In the end, Fatman is a convoluted mess, and a disappointment in that it never reaches its true potential. At the same time, however, it would be a lie to say this wasn’t a fun and bonkers watch.