by Jay Cook
As it turns out, Santa is real and he’s living in rural USA. He pays bills just like the rest of us and sometimes he finds it hard to make ends meet. Fatman is a gritty real-life reimagining of a modern-day Saint Nicholas. It has all the things you remember about Santa Claus and then adds all the things you never thought about or never thought would happen to the most famous man in the world. Aside from the debate of him being real or not – Fatman is very real.
Things haven’t quite been the same for Santa (Mel Gibson). With less and less children believing in the magic of Santa, his letters and toy requests have come to an all-time low. So much so, he’s struggling to make ends meet. Knowing this, the US government enlists Santa’s workshop to help them build secret government tech. And while he did everything he could to not have to accept the contract, money talks.
Things are off to a good start and Santa’s little helpers are on schedule to deliver the US government’s tech. But what they weren’t expecting is the aftermath of Christmas day. In one particular case the recipient of a piece of coal, 12-year-old Billy Wenan. Billy’s revenge is to have Santa assassinated. In comes the “Skinny Man” who as well as taking the job has his own history with Santa. Turns out, it’s not the jolly man’s first rodeo.
What makes Fatman that little bit more relatable than your traditional Father Christmas film, is how real the Directors and brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms gave the story. From the rural property in America where Santa and his workshop is located to the red utility truck her drives about town. The Nelms brothers managed to take the magic and wonder of Santa and make him your average joe.
Eshom and Ian Nelms aren’t new to film making though they aren’t quite names you will know as well as others. With a number of short films under their belt, the most successful feature, Small Town Crime in 2017 managed to make its way to the SXSW and BFI London Film Festivals. The script of Fatman has actually been doing the rounds for the last 14 years. The consensus was to hold off until the brothers had more experience under their belts before being given a budget.
Leading the cast is none other than Mel Gibson, who, similar to the role of Fatman is also struggling with people who believe in his magic. Career aside, Gibson actually gives a rather warm and wonderful performance. He manages to tap into this very caring, fatherly figure while at the same time this hardened old man who enjoys a tipple. It is, all the same, a rather far-fetched idea so there is no seriousness in his role either.
There are a few scenes where Chris talks about how his image is used once a year for a marketing spree. His image and story alone can bring in billions of dollars each year. But he seems to receive nothing for that. There are little jabs at how the idea of Santa has been exploited.
There are also these constant themes of naughty and nice and good and bad. Key themes of what we know and cherish of Santa trickles throughout the film. The list is checked twice by Santa’s wife Ruth before Chris jumps on his sleigh. But this is also where some amazing opportunities are lost. For example, when Chris walks around saying good morning to the military soldiers, he doesn’t acknowledge each of them by name. Which is bizarre considering he knows everyone since they were children.
Overall, Fatman is a quirky reimagining of Chris Cringle when the magic of who he is and what he does is fast becoming extinct. Turing his story into a skilled gunman is clever and helps give adults something more adventurous to watch at Christmas time than the usual films doing the rounds every year. Gibson gives a fun and warm performance – something you used to expect from his roles way back when. Directors Eshom and Ian Nelms manage to capture a bit of magic in a very real world. Makes you wonder if maybe he is real.