Review: 'Fatman' (2020) Dirs. Eshom & Ian Nelms
An alternate festive offering to your tales of Scrooge or magic lands from the Nelms brothers, as the legend of Santa Claus takes a whole new direction.
Chris Cringle (Gibson) and wife Ruth (Jean-Baptiste) work around the clock at his North Peak estate, preparing and planning the annual Christmas Eve operation, but Chris can't help feel disheartened by the ratio of good to bad children in the world.
Meanwhile, spoilt young rich kid Billy (Hurstfield) has made his way onto the naughty list, and he's not happy about it. So much so when he gets coal in his stocking, he enlists hitman Skinny Man (Goggins) to kill Chris - the fatman - himself.
With Skinny Man out for the kill (and a vendetta of his own), Chris is under enough pressure as is, so has Ruth, the elves and the US National Guard (who contract out the workshop for military purposes) ready to defend North Peak and save Christmas for all...
Running at only 85mins, this is a short and snappy festive tale. However, it's a festive tale of which you may be expecting - the title itself of "Fatman" indicates that. Free from sparkling lights, tall trees, shiny stockings and family cheer, this still manages to encapsulate a whole host of Christmas themes without the sugar coated shell. It's not going to be for everyone, but this is a Christmas film rooted in reality for the more mature audience.
Mel Gibson is our Chris Cringle, known to the world as Santa Claus. He's a man who has a big salt 'n pepper beard, loves cookies, tends to his reindeer and runs a toy manufacturing workshop on a remote estate in the Alaskan town of North Peak. Alongside him is loving wife Ruth, played with sweet relish by Marianne Jean-Baptiste. The two are a power couple, but keep themselves to themselves and strive to make the world a happy place through the spirit of Christmas once a year.
Gibson is the last person you'd expect to see as Santa, but this Santa is devoid of a jelly belly, big red suit and twinkling eyes. Instead he's wrapped up in a thick bomber jacket, a cozy beanie hat, drives a red Ford truck and looks well worn after decades of service.
Chris Cringle is a good man, and strives for the best for everyone around him. Gibson plays this with a grizzled, quiet charm and you can buy his Santa in this less than magical offering.
This is a film with little fantasy, but amidst the US Army and corporate officials trying to enlist Chris and the workshop for their own purposes, we still have elves who eat nothing but cake and sweets as it heightens their senses, and Mrs Cringle even has to power through her cookies going through a "vegan, sugar free" phase. If Chris Nolan directed a festive story, devoid of any mind-bending plots of CGI, it would be this. A fantasy figure that exists in a dark world.
And that darkness is present in two factors - the sadness Chris feels that the bad children of the world are starting to even out the good, resulting in low toy production and more coal distribution. He wants the world to be a magical place, but is living in a time where that is dwindling. There is a beautiful moment midway through when Chris receives some feedback from children who have grown up to take a career that their toys helped inspire; a kitchen set helps a boy become a chef, and a fire truck drives a girl to be a firefighter. Gibson still shows he's a solid actor when the misty eyed grizzle needs to.
The second dark factor that clouds this story is Walton Goggins as Jonathan Miller, a hitman for hire who is tasked be nasty spoilt brat Chance Hurstfield to kill the fatman for leaving coal in his stocking. Miller is a dark character, racking up a sizeable body count during his profession and teasing an unhappy, unfulfilled childhood that he blames Chris for. Goggins spends the majority of the film leading us on his preparation for the hit; finding the elusive workshop, acquiring the right gear, honing his marksman skills. He's someone you can really believe as being a cold killer, but glimpse the small slivers of humanity he shows in the process.
In fact, remove all expectations of a mindless action film; this is a drama for the most past, laced with dark humour and a warm character study on this new interpretation of the Cringles and the workshop. It's a showcase for Gibson and Jean-Baptiste to bring a mature, unique take on the characters of Mr and Mrs Cringle, and they are a good team who you can't help but feel soft and fuzzy for as the jolly couple who keep Christmas alive.
But you get what you came for towards the end. The last twenty minutes feel the closest thing we will get to "The Night The Reindeer Died" from 1989's 'Scrooged'. Goggins infiltrates the Cringle workshop and takes down numerous US soldiers in the process hunting for his prey in sets that look like something from a true action movie; steam filled boiler rooms, dark corridors and haunting warehouses filled with warning klaxons, heavy machinery lights and corpses on the ground.
Seeing Goggins launch smoke grenades and engaging in shoot-outs with the army, all the while elves run for their lives is a somewhat nightmarish assault on Christmas itself! So it's treat seeing our "Fatman" Gibson lock and load and face down Goggins in a Spaghetti Western style duel in gorgeous snow-crested Alaskan countryside. This results in a confrontation with some heart behind it all, no silly excess and a fantastic closing sequence.
No jingle bells or mistletoe, just assault rifles and broken childhoods. Gibson is on form as a very unique Santa in a dark, yet somehow heart-warming, festive story.
'Fatman' is a co-production between Fortitude International, Mammoth Entertainment, Rough House Pictures and Sprockefeller Pictures