“Christmas is a farce, I am a joke.” – Mel Gibson’s Santa
I was on board for this movie the moment I heard the premise of Mel Gibson portraying a gritty Santa Claus.
I have a deep and abiding enjoyment for Mel Gibson as a cultural figure as a filmmaker. I’m fascinated by his artistic soul, his love of faith, his despair and fear of physical pain and his idealism. I also Moran just how deeply his life is plagued by alcoholism, abuse and buried resentments.
Those moral failings aren’t something Gibson keeps out of his public persona. When he’s working on projects he actually respects, he pours his persona into his work and gets masterpiece performances and directing work. His best projects all carry the dichotomy of hope and pain openly as they debate all manner of issues from faith to moral degeneracy.
That said, most of Gibson’s work is for-hire work. He might pour some of that energy into lessor works like The Beaver, Expendables 3, Daddy’s Home 2 or Edge of Darkness but these films don’t hold up post their initial viewings.
Fatman is a film I feared would fall into this second category. At its face, it seems like a gimmick with little promise of substance. Gibson can’t play “jolly” so the project has to the lean into darker ideas. This could work in the hands of a skilled director with a high concept story.
Alas, Fatman isn’t some elevated ironic Santa Claus film.
The film certainly doesn’t hold back. Our Santa is introduced doing target practice with a handgun on a desolate Northern Canadian farm. This version of Santa is one marked by deep self loathing and poverty. He’s a troubled man trying to keep up his contract with the U.S. government but can’t fulfill his obligations because of how many naughty kids are out there these days.
Santa feels deeply alienated and desperate as his finances are drying up and he’s rapidly losing his ability to provide for his workers. He no longer feels Christmas joy and decides to take an additional contract with the military to produce components for fighter jets. If he doesn’t fulfill the contract, the North Pole will be forced into bankruptcy.
As this is happening, a scorned naughty child hires an assassin to hunt down Santa as vengeance for him receiving coal for his naughty actions that year. The assassin begins slowly crawling his way to the North Pole, with his own reasons for wanting vengeance against Santa, and prepares to kill his target.
Fatman is a very serious movie. It might be funny to some viewers but that’s not because it’s intentionally funny. It’s just a visually absurd film with characters delivering silly lines like “I’m looking for the Fatman. Santa Claus mother f*cker?!”
The film sometimes alludes to the classic red suited portrayal of Santa Claus but makes fun of it as though the portrayal is a cartoonish depiction of a real man. That’s really the only excuse the movie makes for itself in regards to its portrayal.
Fatman is a movie that just isn’t in control of its tone or ideas. It smooths over its obvious conceptual problems with a tone of overt seriousness but it’s too low concept to fully blossom into a full and unique Santa Claus film on its own terms. The film is just too low-concept and too cheap to find its concept buried in the machinery.
A movie like this would really need to build its concept outward into something larger or to say something about the mechanical nature of the holiday season or the unromantic nature of how the sausage is made in regards to mass consumer production. Maybe this could be a satire about the world becoming a darker place.
Sadly all of the buds of ideas in this film are just that. The film doesn’t have the creativity or money to grow these ideas into full themes. Even the “Air Force contract” subplot is rendered irrelevant by the end of the film where it stops adding to the story. The film’s final shootout with Walton Goggin’s assassin character doesn’t relate to the rest of the film.
For good measure, the film borrows one of my least favorite tropes, as seen in The Accountant (2016), where it turns out that the main character secretly has a connection to the secondary antagonist. At that point the film reveals that it was building up to their final confrontation all along. It feels cheap and doesn’t resolve any of the somber ideas that this kind of portrayal of Santa seems to be screaming out to resolve.
Maybe the novelty of this film will be enough to amuse audiences for 90 minutes. I certainly wasn’t bored watching the film. That said, the film leaves a lot to be desired. I would’ve loved an excellent Mel Gibson gritty Santa Claus movie and sadly I only got a mediocre one.
For what it’s worth though, Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays a lovely Mrs. Claus!