Directed by: Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms
Premise: A twelve year old boy (Chance Hurstfield) gets a lump of coal for Christmas. He hires a hitman (Walton Goggins) to kill Santa Claus (Mel Gibson).
What Works: Christmas has inspired many films, most of them about families and love, but those pictures are complemented by a category of alternative holiday movies like Bad Santa and The Night Before as well as a whole subgenre of Christmas horror films. Fatman sits in that company. The movie has a goofy premise but the filmmakers and the actors play it straight. The movie is designed and shot in a realistic style and the fantastical elements are presented in a grounded fashion. The discord between the concept and the tone makes Fatman darkly funny. It also has weird details that buildout the story world and give the film some texture. The elves in Santa’s workshop are especially effective in this regard. Fatman has a terrific cast. Mel Gibson’s earthy and grizzled take on Santa Claus suits the material. There is a commonality between Gibson’s role in Fatman and his performances in Payback and the original Lethal Weapon; this character has lost faith in his life’s work and he has to find his way back. Gibson is paired with Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Santa’s wife. Gibson and Jean-Baptiste have a likable relationship, sharing the rapport of a couple who have been together for a long time, and the domestic scenes are a warm counterpoint to the violence. Walton Goggins nearly steals the movie as the assassin and young actor Chance Hurstfield is convincing as the precocious and unscrupulous boy who issues a contract on Santa.
What Doesn’t: Fatman is holiday counterprogramming and so it’s the kind of film intended for audiences looking for an alternative to saccharine Christmas fare. This isn’t for the Hallmark audience. However, Fatman doesn’t quite maximize the potential of its premise. At the opening of the film Santa is disillusioned, feeling as though his efforts to inspire goodness and joy have been lost on a fallen world. By the end, Santa has renewed and revised his sense of purpose but little of what’s happened has led him to that conclusion. Fatman includes a subplot in which the United States’ military has contracted Santa’s workshop to build something. This subplot has little payoff. The military element could be stripped out of the film without really changing the way the story plays out.
DVD extras: Currently available on streaming outlets.
Bottom Line: Fatman is a unique entry in the genre of contrarian holiday movies. It’s no Bad Santa but the filmmakers and the cast make this wacky premise work. Fatman is a satisfying mix of action and black comedy that is well poised to become a cult title.
Episode: #832 (December 27, 2020)