Could Fatman be the greatest Christmas movie to come out since Elf? For someone like myself who loves action, thrillers and dark comedies, then the answer is…yes! In fact, it’s better than Elf. Yeah I said it. This violent, gritty saga about an unorthodox Santa dealing with a hitman after a rich, spoiled, psychopathic brat puts out a hit on him after receiving a lump of coal for Christmas is just what 2020 needed to end the year with a bang and lift our Christmas spirits.
It’s been a tough time for Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson), AKA Santa, and his wife, Ruth Cringle (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). With more naughty children getting lumps of coal for Christmas instead of normal presents, the Cringles and their hard-working elves have been missing the toy making quota set by the US government that would garner them a decent paycheck. Turns out that “Santa” is really a business after all, his role in helping lift spirits – and inspire people to buy during the holidays – can’t be overstated. Thus, the Cringles’ get a nice subsidy check from the government.
With their income now so low that they can’t cover the costs of living, hard times call for hard choices. In order to keep their operation afloat, Chris accepts a special contract from the US military where his incredibly productive workforce of elves will have their amazing tinkering skills applied to making – you guessed it – weapons for the US military.
If that wasn’t enough for Chris to deal with, Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), a rich, psychopathic child who definitely made the naughty list, has hired a hitman (Walton Goggins) to kill Santa, after being angered when he receives a lump of coal for Christmas. With his own beef to settle with the “fatman” since he also didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas as a child, the hitman goes on a killing spree to find the location of Santa’s workshop and exact his own revenge while having the bonus of being paid to do so.
But what Billy and the hitman don’t realize is that this isn’t Chris Cringle’s first rodeo. When the hitman meets his target and his bearded adversary says “You think you’re the first? You think I got this job because I’m fat and jolly?” while armed with a handgun – you know Santa isn’t going down without a fight.
Mel Gibson gives a memorable and gritty performance as a disgruntled man frustrated with the world and struggling to pay the bills. Oh, and he also happens to be Santa Claus. While it would be easy for a lesser actor to fall short of the mark in bringing to life this unorthodox take on such an iconic character within a ridiculous action story, Mel Gibson shows once again why he was the megastar he was as he approaches this role with all the seriousness you’d expect from a serious drama and gives an award worthy performance.
It helps that, despite the absurdness of the story, there are some fantastically written moments for him to work with as well as a solid co-star playing his beloved. Behind every great man is a great woman and nothing could be more true than with Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s portrayal of Ruth Cringle. She’s been through this supernatural journey every step of the way with him and is the reason why he has been able to keep going on. She is his rock. Her resilience keeps him resilient. She knows her husband better than he does and knows exactly what to do in order to keep him going. Ruth always speaks her mind and loves her husband as much as he loves her.
They are what couples aspire to be when you have been together for so long. Jean-Baptiste compliments Gibson perfectly and you really feel like these two have been together for a long time. And just like Gibson, she too knows how to dish out the pain when words and diplomacy are no longer an option. The Cringles are the ultimate power couple.
With an intensity and presence that reminded me of 90s-era Jack Nicholson, Walton Goggins performance really stood out for me because he plays a surprisingly nuanced hitman. It’s very easy for these types of characters – especially if they’re not the protagonist – to be little more than two-dimensional killing machines who simply exist as obstacles for the hero to overcome. Yet as our killer gets closer and closer to his target, we learn that not only is he capable of nurturing (even if it is only for his hamster) but he was also denied his truest Christmas wish. His motivation for revenge is more complicated than Billy’s and when he eventually faces Santa, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him.
Brother directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms(Small Town Crime, Waffle Street), who also wrote Fatman, have managed to make a serious movie out of a ridiculous premise. The reason why it works is because they didn’t try to make it funny. By treating it like a serious action/thriller and focusing on the elements that are humanly relatable to the audience, the comedy comes through via the silliness of the story and through the supernatural elements we expect from a Christmas story. It’s the perfecting pairing of the silly with the serious. It also helps that they’ve cast fantastic actors with serious acting chops to pull this off and mixed with strong production value,
Fatman more than lives up to the ridiculous premise of its trailer, proving to be far more nuanced than advertised. It’s also one of my favorite movies in a year that could desperately use more goodwill to men and holiday spirits. It’s a completely different take on the genre and does for Christmas movies what Deadpool did for comic book movies. Not everything has to be for the kids and this is definitely one that you’ll have to wait for them to be tucked into bed before you settle in for Santa vs. assassin drama. Mel Gibson shows that he’s still got it and since they’ve announced Lethal Weapon 5, Fatman shows that he’s not too old for this tinsel.