FACTOTUM directed by Bent Hamer, written by Hamer and Jim Stark from the novel by Charles Bukowski, with Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei. 94 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (December 1). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Charles Bukowski's mostly auto biographical writing celebrates the drinking, whoring and gambling. Factotum, based on his second novel and meaning "a man of many jobs," remains faithful to his values, which is a very good thing if you appreciate his deadpan, deadbeat style and bleary-eyed honesty.
But those less sympathetic to the repetitive rhythms of Bukowski's loser lifestyle - find job, get drunk, lose job, get drunk, scribble something poetic and profound, hit the track, shack up with like-minded barfly and have sweaty sex, followed by a good morning heave, continue drinking until money runs out, find another job - might find this a less than rewarding exercise.
Whether you see the shot glass as half empty or half full, there's no denying that Matt Dillon gives a captivating performance as Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, a shambling, poetically flawed and quietly noble drunk.
Reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in Ironweed and Mickey Rourke in the Bukowski-penned Barfly, Dillon imbues his sotted savage with an old-fashioned sense of dignity even as he downplays his Marlboro manliness to make his character less sympathetic.
As he stumbles through a variety of jobs, from fixing bikes to delivering ice, and women (both Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei) pour themselves onto bar stools wanting to be held, his brutishness is softened by surprisingly tender moments of minor-key heroism. We come to admire his desire to live life on his own terms.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than when Chinaski demands a severance cheque from one of his many ex-employers after less than a day's work, explaining that he wants the money so he can get drunk: "That may not sound noble, but it's my choice."
Factotum is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer, who made the 2003 film Kitchen Stories, a sparse yet textured character study. He captures a similar mood here in a modest and unsentimental portrait of a fatally afflicted alcoholic who desires self-expression at any cost.