Headlined by Mel Gibson as Santa Claus, Fatman boasts an entirely out there and original plot. If you have seen (and enjoyed) 2017’s film noir hybrid Small Town Crime, you know brothers Ian and Esholm Nelms don’t play it safe with their narratives. Though this approach may have its detractors, I was immediately hooked with Fatman.
Fatman introduces us to Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson), a man who, thanks to knowing who’s been naughty or nice, has a pretty good read on humanity. Even with the support of his loving wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and a dedicated working crew of Elves, Cringle is finding it hard to make ends meet. Even with the trillions of revenue he and his outfit generates, most of that money doesn’t reach the North Pole.
Desperate for financial support, Cringle signs a contract with the U.S. government to have his workers enhance the Army’s day to day operations. With his domicile turned into a military compound, Cringle is in a sad state. Couple that with a new generation of entitled children expecting presents, Cringle (aka “Fatman”) has lost that holiday spirit.
Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), a rich brat who terrorizes his classmate after she wins first prize at the Science Fair, is on Santa’s naughty list. When he gets a lump of coal for Christmas, he hires contract killer Skinny Man (Walton Goggins) to terminate Santa.
The biggest misdirection about Fatman is the narrative doesn’t simply rest on Cringle’s shoulders. A big chunk of the story focuses on Skinny Man’s journey in finding our protagnonist, which in turn leads to the climactic showdown. As evidenced with Justified and The Hateful Eight, Goggins is adept and believable in Western themed stories. Even though violence is a big part of Skinny Man’s diets, a healthy portion of the comedy comes from his eccentric and meticulous behavior.
Whether you love him or not, Mel Gibson is a bonafide movie star, and watching him go toe to toe (actually, bullet to bullet) with Goggins reminds me of watching all those Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, and Jimmy Stewart Westerns I used to love as a kid. Credit goes to directing/writing team Ian Nelms and Eshom Nelms for not infusing a ton of obvious Christmas jokes into Fatman. Such a move would have been extraneous, and though Fatman is a totally out there concept, the story actually takes itself seriously.
There wil be complaints about the lack of character development of Skinny Man or maybe even Santa. That said, flashbacks to “flesh out” the story would have also detracted from Fatman’s lean and deliciously mean narrative. Skinny Man is hired to kill Fatman and ultimately they go at it – simple as that. If you’ve devoured your share of Westerns,and Jean-Pierre Melville flicks, then Fatman may appeal to your storytelling preferences.
Boasting solid work from Mel Gibson and Walton Goggins, Fatman is filled with a ton of bite and bile. Amidst the cynicism, there are a ton of laughs to be had. Christmas, with an engaged and rejuvenated Santa, is a gift that keeps on giving, In its own unpredictable fashion, Fatman may brighten up your holiday season.
Rating: 4 out of 5 *****
Fatman hits theaters November 13 with a Digital and On Demand release slated for November 24.
On the latest CinemAddicts episode, we review Let Him Go and The Hater. Fatman is also discussed but it was taped before I saw the feature:
On our latest director’s spotlight on Find Your Film, we discuss Joe Dante and cover his features Gremlins and Matinee: