Fatman Review: Mel Gibson’s Gun Toting Chris Kringle Still Loves Toys for Tots!
In Fatman, Mel Gibson stars as Chris—whose last name is yes, Kringle. Now, Gibson’s Santa is unlike any Claus that Hollywood history has ever produced.
That’s a good thing because a bratty kid Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield) has hired a hitman (Walton Goggins) to take him out for gifting him a lump of coal (it was so deserved).
All that shooting at empty cans that Chris does in the name of stress relief will come in handy. When Goggins’ so-called “Skinny Man” comes calling, armed for a small revolution, it’s a high-noon moment right out of the best Westerns.
Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms directed the flick and also penned the screenplay. It is a film that never takes itself seriously. Yet all of its players do, and that works brilliantly for the tonal resonance of Fatman.
Even Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s Ruth, aka Mrs. Claus, is a Santa’s wife in a world where Fatman is a target. Sure, she bakes cookies that are the envy of the world’s bakery aficionados. But Ruth is a no-nonsense wife who keeps her husband’s moods and accomplishments in check.
They have been at this for decades, but there is something unique about this particular year. Actually, it has been building for several laps around the sun.
Children are seemingly getting worse. It’s not just Billy and his hiring of the Skinny Man to intimidate a classmate into forfeiting the science competition. Their North Pole operation is hanging by a thread.
The U.S. government subsidizes Chris’ work, and since demand for Santa’s toys has been steadily going down (what with those “bad” kids growing in number), even though their costs have gone up, their incoming income has halved.
The morning after Christmas, the U.S. military descends on Chris’ snowy landscape. Since money is tight, he signed a deal with the Pentagon to turn Santa’s assembly line into an arm of the military industrial complex for two months to help pay the bills.
The elves effortlessly make the change, but it doesn’t sit right with Chris.
As the Nelms brothers lay out their tale, it is ever-building towards something big, a showdown if you will. Smartly, filmmakers have laid out a number of plotlines that stem off of the primary Chris versus Skinny Man drama.
The relationship between Chris and Ruth is textured and feels rooted in modern romantic reality. Elf 7 (Eric Woolfe) embodies the entire workforce but what it means to be an elf in this Santa Claus universe. Their sugary-soaked diet is just one element of the elves that the Nelms boys have richly crafted.
Woolfe’s capturing of his part of the elf nation is a tough task. After all, he serves as our entire introduction to this storied group. The actor is perfectly cast. That is especially true when the military descends on their workshop and even when Goggins’ hitman is on the attack.
Turns out, Skinny Man is familiar with Chris’ work, and his own misgivings about the Fatman have blurred his normally supremely professional vision.
What Eshom and Ian Nelms have put together leaves a lot to the imagination, and they wisely believe in their audience. We don’t need to see Gibson’s fly in a magical sled with reindeer to believe that Santa flew around the world on Christmas Eve night because we witness him arriving home Christmas morning completely exhausted.
We do see the sled, but it is when Chris is repairing it. It returned home, complete with bullet holes from some kids who thought it would be funny to shoot at Santa. Things are rough.
The filmmakers also paint Chris as just a regular guy. He’s not quite jolly, and he truthfully is not all that fat. But Fatman paints a picture of Santa as the guy who comes to the local post office to check on his P.O. Box to see if there are any more wishes today than there were yesterday.
Gibson completely nails it and is exactly who you want playing this Santa Claus. After all, this is a guy who goes to his local bar and orders a Johnny Carson. What is that you ask? A shot of Jack Daniels with Alka Seltzer dropped in it.
The actor also plays a certain aspect of his character as equal parts gift and curse. He knows everyone’s name and their business before they even open their mouth. Don’t bother telling this guy your life story… he already knows.
This produces some comedic moments and cuts right through to the powerful emotion that drives Skinny Man to his ultimate showdown with the Fatman.
Jean-Baptiste knows exactly what Christmas movie she is in and plays her Mrs. Claus pitch perfectly. Her relationship with Chris is heartwarming and one of the warmer aspects of Fatman.
The actress and Gibson have irresistible chemistry and illustrates why the Without a Trace star is continually an underlying MVP, no matter the project or medium. Whether on TV, film, or stage, the English actress is constantly sublime.
Goggins dives into his role with utter abandon. The actor has a long history of portraying those charged with dealing death, but there is something absolutely commanding about his Skinny Man. He’s a man on a mission and it is one that has got his cockles all sorts of up in arms. It is such an unbridled pleasure to witness.
As much as Gibson loses himself in the role of Chris Kringle, Goggins matches that intensity with flair and assassin abandon. The Justified antagonist relishes every single one of his gigs. He takes his vocation dead serious.
But there is something about taking the “brat’s” (his words, not mine) cash for taking out Santa that has elevated his passion for his job to palpable levels and it is all Christmas joy for the audience.
Sure, we’ve seen rotten Santas before. The Billy Bob Thornton-starring Bad Santa was a 2003 holiday cinematic boom of devilish delight. That was an actor portraying a mall Santa. Gibson is the man himself. His incarnation weaves a web with the character that still keeps him grounded in the goodness that defines the “character.”
He rights wrongs. When his local bartender flirts with a married man, Chris interjects and reminds the guy that he has someone waiting at home. It’s that righteousness that grounds his rough-around-the-edges persona.
He may be a proud gun owner and is quite adept at using his firearms. Who can blame him for packing heat when he’s being shot at delivering presents to billions?
Then again, with a hitman descending on his homestead, that is exactly the Chris Kringle needed for a Nelms brothers’ painted world. The filmmakers have made a creative announcement with their latest. After experiencing their Fatman, their name alone will spark interest from this writer.
So before Christmas gets serious (read: stressful), take some time, sit back, and relish a Fatman for the ages.
Fatman is in theaters now, will debut On Demand on November 17.
Joel D. Amos is the Senior Editor of The Movie Mensch and writes film reviews for TV Fanatic. He has been an entertainment journalist for two decades now, focusing on penning reviews for film, television and streaming content of all kinds. He also has conducted hundreds of interviews with stars as varied as Harrison Ford to Elton John and Angelina Jolie. Joel is a founding member of the Hollywood Critics Association and in his free time, is all about his family.