Written by: Adam Vaughn | November 22nd, 2020
Fatman (Eshom Nelms/Ian Nelms, 2020) 2 out of 4 stars.
As the holiday season approaches, directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms (Waffle Street) bring us a new, gritty Christmas tale with Fatman, a Santa Claus story with a considerable amount of edge and intensity not often used to describe holiday joy. At first glance, Fatman seems to provide a tremendous amount of fast-paced action and violence, with the famous Kris Kringle (played by the infamous Mel Gibson, Blood Father) presented as a grumpy, gruff woodsman with one hell of a delivery service. While the film promises adventures and thrills, Fatman overall misses the mark on being a Christmas-action film, and instead brings nothing but dreariness and bleak, lusterless storytelling.
Fatman tells the story of a down-on-his-luck Santa Claus delivering toys for the good and coal for the naughty, once again. Only this time, Kris Kringle has pissed off the wrong young boy: Billy Wenan, the spoiled grandson of a wealthy family, who hires an expert hitman (appropriately named the Skinny Man) to eliminate “the fatman” after receiving coal for Christmas. With Santa’s operation at ultimate risk, Kris must fight to the finish against the expert assassin and save not just Christmas, but his own head!
As a film detached from the usual joyous, upbeat, family-friendly tone of the usual Christmas rabble, Fatman pushes the boundaries of realism and action to create a more serious storytelling experience, warping the classic role of Santa into an incredibly honest and human character, with very human problems (money shortages, business deals gone wrong, etc.). I personally found the aesthetic very unique, and the proof of concept as well as Gibson’s portrayal of Santa are a key factor in keeping the viewer invested. The sequences of violence – mostly, to my dismay, taking place towards the very end of the film – had a satisfying intensity, and the overall tone of the film came with an effective, if not implicit, sense of Christmas morality.
This does not, however, save the film from having an overall plodding and bleak script that weighs down any and all social issues Fatman is attempting to address. The story’s expository period takes an incredibly uninspired pace, and the establishment of the main plot only projects the film far enough to make it to the final climactic showdown. While there are several interesting moments that take place getting to the action (the breakdown of Santa’s elves, a slightly uncomfortable establishment of the U.S. military as main characters, etc.) the film spends much time delaying the obvious outcome of the story.
What’s more, Mel Gibson, while aesthetically fitting the part, thanks to makeup and wardrobe, gives a performance as Kris Kringle that, while genuine, doesn’t quite have the impact the Nelms brothers may have intended. Though the harsh, gloomy Santa Claus aligns with the somber mood of the movie, he does not give us a hero to cheer for. While consistent with the overall tone of the film, Gibson’s delivery is flat and unmemorable in the greater scheme of things.
Fatman is an interesting and compelling concept, with much to see for viewers looking for a less-than-perfectly cheery Christmas film. If you don’t fall asleep during the beginning act, there is much gripping action that wraps up the narrative, and a nice moral stamp placed at the end of the film’s main message. As a full film, however, Fatman seems to be the less energetic option of what could have been a tremendously fun and thrilling holiday smackdown.