Cert: U / 102 mins / Dir. Christopher Smith
So writer/drector Christopher Smith's idea of a U-rated, 21st century Christmas Film™ is centered around a convicted criminal with repressed memory syndrome over a childhood encounter with an old man..? I suppose the only way to follow that up would be to set around half of the film in a men's prison, like a Christmas Special of Starred Up? Oh, I'm only joking. Well, that is also the film, but I'm only joking about it being in some way inappropriate. It's undeniably an odd choice for a festive flick, but Smith pretty much pulls it off.
Newly refreshed from a two-year holiday at Her Majesty's pleasure, getaway driver Steve Anderson (Rafe Spall) is anxious to reconnect with his young son Tom (Kit Connor), and strained relations with his estranged wife (Jodie Whittaker) don't help the situation any. Meanwhile, a herd of reindeer wandering around central London is reported on the TV news, and on the 23rd of December Tom spies a mysterious stranger (Jim Broadbent) in his garage, panicking about the loss of the herd and his sleigh. Could the man really be who he claims he is? And what will happen to Christmas if he's right..?
So all in all, the film's pretty good. Y'know, but. The structure itself is solid enough, but the narrative is in need of some repair. The screenplay can feel fairly clunky in that the central character is just released from prison largely because he needs the inside knowledge to spring Santa from that same prison later in the film, as does the fact that he drives a camper van largely because he'll need to transport a reindeer further down the line. Eyebrow-raisers like that wouldn't matter so much if this was a saccharine, feel-good festive flick, but the first act in particular has a layer of realism that you don't normally see in this type of film...
Despite the U-rating and the youthful co-star, Get Santa never really feels like a kids' movie. Spall has far more to do than his on-screen son, and while Steve undergoes some character development, the same can't be said of young Tom sadly, who just seems to complain and drag his dad from scene to scene. As a bonafide Christmas Film™, Tom should be the driving force of the story, but instead he's sidelined to being a sidekick.
It's also worth stating that with Tommy and Mullet from Snatch, and Cookie and Tank from RocknRolla, it feels a bit like a Guy Ritchie reunion flick at times. That's no bad thing, by the way, it's just how my mind works. But I get the feeling that had the script left Tom's character at home with his mum, ramped up the comic-violence and bad language and gone for a 15-cert, Get Santa could have been a much more satisfying film, somehow*1. The film's got it where it counts, but it's only good where it could be great.
But you know what? Charming and funny as Christmas films go, Get Santa is pretty damned good. I don't think it'll become a classic, but everyone involved should be proud to have it on their CV.
It's also nicely underplayed, but I loved the ongoing theory that Santa has all the tools and methodology of a serial burglar. Rafe Spall and Jim Broadbent are fantastic, while Warwick Davis, Stephen Graham and Nonso Anozie are clearly having a whale of a time, and there aren't many films which could make six farting reindeer quite this endearing.
Some questions which aren't covered by section 7b, below:
• In 'Barber's solo-scene, how come he's watching the TV sitcom Porridge on Channel 4? They don't have the broadcast rights for that programme, do they? (Unless he's watching the film spin-off, but I'm fairly certain he wasn't; the tape/film-stock difference between the two is jarring, and would be evident even in an in-movie appearance)
• Not all of the reindeer are namechecked, but where the hell's Rudolph? Or is 'Get Rudolph' being lined up as a sequel?
The film's best references:
• It wouldn't be a prison comedy without a direct nod to The Shawshank Redemption.
• There's also a much smoother Back To The Future, 'I'm sorry it's not to scale' reference.
• Steve's son is called (and named in full by Santa as) Thomas Anderson, which is the 'civilian' name of Neo in The Matrix. Which would make white-bearded Santa The Architect, given his extensive knowledge about all of the other characters in the film. This could also go some way to explaining the reality-bending sequences, given that it's all a simulation. Admittedly, my brain may have made a connection here where there isn't one.
Get Santa's best line:
"Are you on medication? …Or worse, are you not on medication?"
In the warm, fuzzy moments; yes.
Mostly, I think.
As a Christmas Film™? Pretty much.
If you want to see it this year, cinema it is. Otherwise, this is a Sunday afternoon DVD with sherry and mince pies.
I will. Although probably just at home with sherry and mince pies.
I thought I heard one when young Tom goes to investigate movement in his garden shed in the middle of the night; y'know, when there should have been an owl sound-effect. Unless it was a just combination of my tinnitus and the deafening volume-level in the auditorium, of course.
Do you know how often there's a full moon on Christmas Eve? Not often at all. So either a) the film takes place specifically in 1996 or 2007, or b) the moon is used as a narrative symbol to subconsciously illustrate to the audience that this is a work of fantasy, and that while the themes and ideals of the plot should be taken to heart, the actualities of the plot shouldn't.
Or c) having Santa's sleigh silhouetted against a full moon is just lazy screenwriting.
One of those.
*1 Although at one point, a police officer does get reindeer-faeces blasted directly into her face on Christmas Eve. Directly. Although the screenplay doesn't address it, I think we all know that she's going to go blind by New Year...
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.