Fatman, directed and written by Eshom and Ian Nelms, is a movie that tries very hard to sell you on the most realistic depiction of the work of Santa Claus. The movie answers questions like how Santa gets his letters and where would he and the elves make all the toys? The problem with this depiction has nothing to do with the organic ways the film attempts to explain the job of being Santa Claus. The issue is that for being a Black Comedy, it doesn’t aspire to do anything other than be mean spirited.
The film predictably explains what Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) does every year on Christmas. This particular Christmas is important because he doesn’t have enough money from the treasury to make sure that all the toys are created and delivered on time as usual. Difficulty is added to his job because a particular child named Billy Wenan (Chance Hartsfield), a sadistic perfectionist, received coal the previous year and wants Santa dead for what he sees as the transgression. Billy is rich, so he hires a hitman Jonathan Miller to take Santa down once and for all.
Mel Gibson is fantastic in this film. He plays Santa as a world-weary half-drunk pessimist who has lost his joy. He knows why he still does his job, but the people he services continually make decisions that make him question whether it’s worth performing the duty anymore. That’s a level of depth they give the character immediately, and while that’s amazing to see, no one else in the film really gets the same treatment.
Sometimes a movie can have a great premise, but they can spoil it with fluff in a way that makes the whole experience unattractive. That is the case with Fatman. The directors have a gold mine with the use of Mel Gibson. The plant does most of the damage in killing such a terrific performance. Did we really need an hour-long supply about Santa not being able to afford to make toys for Christmas because the treasury didn’t pay him enough? Is that really something that the audience needed to see? Why not show us what Billy was like before he was angry with the Fatman? This would give the film a glimmer into the psyche of someone who chooses continually to inflict pain.
The writer/directors’ route to travel causes the film to be more bloated than Santa’s belly. The only saving grace of the financial woes’ subplot is that we spend a decent amount of time watching the dynamic between Santa and his wife Ruth Cringle (Maryanne Jean-Baptiste). I love Maryanne Jean-Baptiste in this movie. She gives the audience the closest representation of what it would look like for a long-suffering wife to watch her husband try and bring joy to people worldwide and with a heavy burden that is to carry. She possesses a sharp wit and a quiet strength that the movie would suffer greatly without.
I would be remiss if I did not mention how brilliantly Walter Goggins uses his performance as Jonathan Miller to humanize the disappointment children feel when Santa doesn’t give them what they’re hoping for. The ordeal becomes especially more sobering when you realize this toy is the difference between the child believing in something or someone bigger than themselves and suffering abuse in a bad environment. Had this moment come earlier in the film, I might be singing its praises instead of shaking my head in disappointment.
The final 17 minutes of this film are the big showdown between Jonathan Miller and Kris Kringle. The audience predictively will be more invested in whether or not Santa survives, but regardless of the outcome, I personally found myself wishing the confrontation had happened earlier or in smaller batches so we could get a taste of what was coming before the film came to its natural conclusion.
At the end of the day, Fatman fails because it isn’t secure enough in its darkness not to be forthcoming with its subject matter or themes soon enough. A black comedy never has to be jolly; it just has to make you care about the outcome, and in this case, I never did, and neither will the audience. Fatman is naughty for all the wrong reasons.