REVIEW: The Uneven FATMAN Wins Audiences Over with Committed Performances and Well-Done Action

By: Anthony Francis

“All I have is a loathing for a world that’s forgotten.”

That is the sentiment of Chris Cringle. Yes, that Chris Cringle. 

In the new film “Fatman”, Mel Gibson plays Chris Cringle a.k.a. Santa Clause as a blue-collar type who lives secluded on a farm deep in Alaska with his wife Ruth, played well by Marianne Jean-Baptiste. 

This time, Santa is a grumbly, disgruntled, and jaded soul who resents a world that fails to appreciate the spirit of the holidays. 

This is a fed-up Santa Clause. While the world makes a big profit from his image every December, his payment from the United States is smaller due to Santa giving more and more coal, as the children of the world are losing the Christmas spirit.

Chris is ready to give it all up and let the world live without a Santa Clause. He is sick of everyone making big profits off his image yet failing to respect the spirit of Christmas. Were it not for the wise and encouraging words of Ruth, Santa Clause would retire forever.

Needing more money to continue fueling the electricity to his workshop (yes, there are indeed elves!), Chris reluctantly accepts an offer from the military to use the workshop for two months so they can build weapons quickly. After all, the elves know how to work quickly and efficiently.

Enter a little shit named Billy (Chance Hurstfield), a spoiled, rich, jerk of a kid who is so bad that he hires a professional assassin (the modern cinematic treasure that is Walton Goggins) to muscle a female classmate to give up her first prize win. 

Billy is a monstrous child with a horrible attitude, certainly the product of a dead mother and absent father. The kid is raised by his staff (who he treats like garbage) and shares the empty mansion with his sickly grandmother, who he plans to get rid of as well.

Rightfully, Billy receives coal in his stocking and becomes enraged. He hires the assassin for one more job, kill Santa Clause.

This is certainly a one-note premise and writers/directors Eshomand Ian Nelms don’t fully mine all that they can from their unique tale. 

The film could have been a biting satire of a Santa Clause in crisis, a man who brings joy to the world dealing with a world losing its joy. While there are some particularly good scenes between Chris and Ruth that touch on this subject, the possibilities of a potent commentary on the state of the world are never fully realized. 

The existence of the military working alongside Santa’s elves also comes up short. There is a quick moment with one of the commanders having a chat with the head elf about the merits of a candy and sugar-filled diet that elicits some humor but the possibilities of elves and soldiers fighting together never comes to fruition.

The directors and the actors play everything completely straight. Make no mistake, this is a grim film. Santa is grumpy and preparing for a battle with an assassin. There are no reindeer or sleigh bells or bright Christmas colors. We get reds but they come as blood splatter. Not too jolly. 

The serious tone buries the satirical possibilities and gives much of the film an uncomfortable feeling. At the same time, it gives a tonal balance to the coming violence when Chris and the assassin have their showdown.

The final moment is a well-orchestrated gun duel between Gibson and Goggins that harkens back to the exciting and blood-soaked action scenes of the 1980s, when action films were king. 

The filmmakers wisely stay away from the shaky-cam style that robs modern action scenes of their excitement (I’m talking to YOU Jason Bourne films!) and make the final shootout viscerally exciting. 

Casting Mel Gibson as the grumbly and rugged Santa Clause was perfect. One thing Gibson has always excelled in is his ability to be rugged and tough. This has served him well through many of his action films, making his characters even morerelatable.

Gibson’s Chris Cringle is blue collar hard. His distaste for the modern world echoes many of us who wish for a society where people were nicer and more appreciative regarding their fellow man. 

The actor has found a good late-career persona to fit his whiskey-hardened voice and weathered face. His performance here is grizzly and tough, fitting well in the actor’s film cannon.

Walton Goggins is fantastic as the assassin named Skinny Man, who willfully accepts the job to kill “the fatman”. Skinny Man has an axe to grind with Santa due to an unhappy childhood and toys he never received.

Goggins finds a dark humor in his performance. Skinny Man worries about his weight and his hairstyle while carefully choosing the right jacket to wear for his mission. The actor goes all in with his portrayal, making the character fun to watch. 

The dedication from all the principle actors make most of the film work. While a film about a gun toting Santa perhaps should have been a bit lighter, the commitment from Gibson, Jean-Baptiste, and Goggins smooths out the abruptness of the film’s tone.

For this reviewer, I like my Christmas films with all the cheesiness and warm feelings that come with the holiday. Saying that, one could ask why I recommend this film?

Fatman is not a Christmas movie. This is the one time where Santa Clause is the main character, but the film is not for kids. It’s vulgar and violent and never pretends to be 2020’s next holiday classic. 

This is a hard-edged action film that builds up to a great blood-soaked finale where the bullets fly. 

Did the main character have to be Santa? Yes and no. They could have made the same film where the character was some kind of ex-military guy holed up in his Alaskan home and his Pat finds him in the form of an assassin. But this has been done countless times before. 

Making the lead character Santa Clause and using the frustrations of angry and entitled children who didn’t get the presents they desired is inspired. 

Again, the possibilities of commenting on the state of the world’s attitude are never fully explored but the Nelms brothers want their film to be an unapologetic action flick that shows an angry Santa who no longer placates bad children. Those who act up get coal. Any man foolish enough to mess with Santa’s home are met with gun-blasting resistance.

This is not a film for today’s politically correct and skittish audiences. This is a good thing. Hollywood seems to have forgotten the value of down and dirty action movies. The Nelms Brothers have not.

“Fatman” is an uneven film that wins adventurous audiences over through committed performances and well-done action.

About The Author: A long-time film connoisseur and son to a father who ran a movie theater, Anthony Francis rightfully grew up to be a journalist, filmmaker, writer, and film reviewer. His latest reviews/interviews/articles can be found at screencomment.com

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