The 2020 Christmas season might be a little different this year compared to most years. Usually a time of year where families come together to show love and appreciation for one another by feasting and gift-giving, all of that might be postponed this year, as COVID-19 still sweeps the globe, particularly in the United States. Many scientists, doctors, and government officials have advised not having large family gatherings during the holidays this year in an attempt to reduce and lower the virus outbreak. We might be used to having our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends at our Christmas festivities. But in 2020, your Christmas celebration might be just you and your significant other.
Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms’ Fatman, a new Christmas thriller starring Mel Gibson as Santa Claus, isn’t going to hit the ranks of all-time Christmas classic, but it is a Christmas movie that personifies the 2020 holiday season. This is unlike any Christmas movie you’ve ever seen. This isn’t a movie about the Christmas spirit or learning to love your family. This is a dark, violent, strange Christmas Western that I had a surprisingly good time with.
Santa Claus (Gibson), a ripped, grizzled man who lives on a farm, drives a red Ford pickup truck, and is known by local townspeople as Chris, is fighting to save his declining business, as there isn’t a demand for presents from Santa’s workshop anymore, while also maintaining his duty of delivering gifts to good children and coal to bad children. Billy (Chance Hurtsfield), a neglected and precocious 12-year-old, is one of those children who receives a lump of coal and because of this, he hires a mysterious hitman (Walton Goggins) to takeout Santa.
The synopsis of this movie is insane but unique. The idea of Mel Gibson playing a grizzled Santa is one thing, but having him be the target of hit is something we’ve never seen before. I really appreciated the hook of this movie and how new of an idea it was. I actually expected the film to be a little more off-the-rails and dumber than it was based on its plot description, but this is a surprisingly tight and focused movie. Santa is a pretty simple guy. He lives on his farm with Mrs. Clause (a lovely Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and continues to give gifts to the good children of the world, regardless of how battered and bruised he gets doing it. He is struggling to pay his bills due to most gifts being outsourced to other companies and must look to a government contract for help so that he can keep making children happy. It’s crazy to think that a Mel Gibson Santa Clause could offer up this much empathy and emotion, but Gibson does a really good job with this performance. As grizzled and intense as this Santa is, there is a warmth to him that you can’t help but recognize because you know that what he is doing is with the best intentions and that everything he does is for the kids who still believe and deserve gifts.
One of the most interesting aspects of Fatman is its blending of genres, the most surprising being that this is a Western. From the bitter and battered hero, to the mysterious villain, to the guns-blazing showdown at the finale, this is Western 101 and it’s wild to think that we now have a Western in the Christmas movie lexicon. There is also the the hitman and Billy’s storyline, which adds a layer of spy thriller to the film. Anything that had to do with Billy was my least favorite part of the film, as Billy was a really one-note character who didn’t add anything interesting to the story other than getting coal for Christmas. Goggins is excellent as our nameless hitman and the movie really could have focused around him as a someone who once received coal from Santa and has been out for revenge ever since. Billy was unnecessary in this film and the only part of the film that didn’t work.
But even with the film being a Western and a spy thriller, Fatman never forgets that it is a Christmas movie and makes sure to bring in moments of Christmas magic. There’s a scene where the government officials who are working with Santa are having lunch with Santa’s elves and asking them about their diet of sugar and carbs and their sleep schedule of quick naps rather than full nights of sleep. It’s a funny, quirky, and original sequence reminiscent of moments in Christmas classics of the past. It’s moments like this that solidify Fatman‘s status as a true Christmas movie.
Fatman isn’t the movie I expected it to me, but this was quite the Christmas surprise. Not everything completely works, but this is a Christmas movie unlike any you’ve ever seen before and one the perfectly fits with the confusing and different 2020 Christmas season.
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