If the Coen brothers made a movie about Santa Claus, the result might resemble today’s movie FATMAN (2020), a dark comedy/thriller about a downtrodden reality-bitten Santa forced to outsource his elves and workshop to the U.S. military to make ends meet, while becoming the target of a relentless hitman hired to kill him by a disgruntled child.
Yup, FATMAN is one weird movie. But you know what? I liked it all the same!
While not a Coen brothers movie, FATMAN was actually written and directed by another pair of brothers, Eshom and Ian Nelms.
Times are tough for Santa (Mel Gibson), mostly because the world’s children are becoming more naughty than nice, which is slimming down his business, and as such, he’s having trouble paying his bills. As a result, when the U. S. military comes knocking on his door with a lucrative contract to build control consoles for their fighter jets, he is unable to say no.
Meanwhile, a spoiled rich child Billy (Chance Hurstfield) is outraged that once again Santa has given him a lump of coal for Christmas. Of course, in Billy’s case it’s well deserved, as he recently had threatened a classmate and forced her into saying she cheated on her science fair project, so she would be disqualified and he would instead be declared the winner.
Billy hires a hitman known only as the Skinny Man (Walton Goggins) to kill Santa, a job the assassin is only too happy to accept, as he has his own Santa issues, having felt abandoned by the gift-giver as a child. As a result, the Skinny Man collects toys which were given to other children by Santa.
The Skinny Man makes his way to northern Canada— the true secret hiding spot for Santa and his elves—to kill Santa once and for all, and he’s such a cool customer that he’s not even deterred by the presence of the U.S. military at the compound, which sets up a violent and bloody conclusion that is the last thing you would expect in a movie about Santa Claus.
The best part about FATMAN is that its tone is consistent, and that tone is dark. There is a sense of gloom throughout this one. Santa is basically depressed and disillusioned by the behavior of people, and he sees himself as a failure. The Skinny Man is one deadly dude, and he remains that way throughout. By far, he’s my favorite character in the movie, mostly because of the performance by Walton Goggins, who is a terrific actor.
There’s also a lot of humor here, most of it towards the beginning of the movie. There’s a chuckle-filled scene when the soldiers share lunch with the elves, and Captain Jacobs (Robert Bockstael) gets into a debate with the elf foreman Elf 7 (Eric Woolfe) about the need for a healthy diet. Jacobs admonishes the elf for feasting on sweets and carbs when he should be eating protein and fruits and vegetables. The elf disagrees and cites their longetivity for knowing more about health than the captain!
The scenes with spoiled Billy are pretty much all played for laughs, although these scenes are probably the least comical in the movie.
The film sheds its humor in its third act and goes all in with violence and bloodshed, and I actually enjoyed this less, as I was having fun with the film’s earlier quirky moments. But overall I enjoyed the script by the Nelms brothers. The story is as fresh as it is weird, and I liked this. They score just as highly behind the camera. The film carries a dreary look throughout, and the icy cold snowy Canadian countryside looked absolutely desolate. The setting proved a nice metaphor for the way Santa viewed people of late.
Mel Gibson makes for a down to earth and depressed Santa. He’s trying his best not to lose faith in humanity, but it’s a losing battle. And when he has to resort to his inner strength to defend himself against the Skinny Man, Gibson is even better. When he bellows out in his throaty voice in answer to the Skinny Man’s declarations of harm, with “You think you’re the first?” you know the Skinny Man has his hands full. It’s a really good performance by Gibson, certainly one of the more unusual and earthy takes on Santa I’ve ever seen.
But the best performance in my book here is Walton Goggins as the Skinny Man. He makes for a determined assassin who while he is at times unhinged never loses control. It’s the type of role that Bruce Dern would have played years ago. Goggins himself is no stranger to this type of role, having played unhinged types in such films as DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015). He also played the villain in the Marvel superhero film ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018).
The confrontation between Santa and the Skinny Man is well worth the wait.
There are also some fine supporting acting performances here as well. Marianne Jean-Baptiste makes for a relaxed and supportive Mrs. Claus, again playing as unconventional a take on the role as you will ever see. Yet, her performance works.
Robert Bockstael plays Captain Jacobs with a sense of sincerity not often seen in a portrayal of a military officer. And Eric Woolfe is memorable as Elf 7, Santa’s top elf and one of his most loyal supporters.
FATMAN isn’t for everyone, and it is certainly not a “family” Christmas movie, but it is a well-written and well-directed tale that takes the most unconventional path regarding Santa Claus as you will ever see, and for that reason alone, it’s pretty impressive! I mean, a violent movie featuring Santa Claus as a main character that’s not entirely played for laughs? Can that even be pulled off? Well, these guys just did it!
And it helps to have veteran actors Mel Gibson and Walton Goggins in the two main roles, Santa and the hit man.
No coal for this one. FATMAN makes for quite the stocking stuffer! Unusually enjoyable, it’s that surprise gift you didn’t see coming but enjoyed all the same!
Books by Michael Arruda:
DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.
Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.
Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!