Thursday, September 21, 2006


Posted on Thu, Sep 21, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Length: Single
Studio: IFC Films
Rated: R
Release Date: 2006-08-18
Cast: Matt Dillon, Marisa Tomei, Lili Taylor, Didier Flamand, Karen Young
Director: Bent Hamer
Screenwriter: Charles Bukowski, Bent Hamer, Jim Stark
Music Score: Kristin Asbjornsen
WorkNameSort: Factotum
Our Rating: 2.00
With Barfly, Barbet Schroeder did the only smart thing anyone could do with a movie based on writer/professional tosspot Charles Bukowski's scribblings ' he made it into woozy alkie-camp. With a peak-of-sleaze Mickey Rourke as Henry Chinaski (Bukowski's alter-ego) shambling about in a glad-tipsy haze from bar to fight to floozy, Schroeder's film itself felt as drunk as its sodden lead.

But Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer ' working from a script co-written with producer Jim Stark (Mystery Train, Cold Fever) and based on Bukowski's novel ' offers us a flavorless Shirley Temple of a film. Factotum is so sober it seems stunned, like it was shot on its first day in AA. Imbued with a certain glum mood, it's a film that, if you've seen the poster ' Matt Dillon in the Chinaski role sitting in a dive smoking, while some pickled women gaze vaguely in his direction ' you've seen the movie.

OK, there's more to it than that. Between losing a wide variety of crap jobs and getting trashed, Chinaski also screws and abuses Lili Taylor's annoying white-trash drunk, and moves on to screwing and abusing Marisa Tomei's sauced-up gold-digger. The downside of this is that Taylor, as in her recent turn as an insufferable narcissist on Six Feet Under, again expertly channels her inner grating harpy. The upside is Tomei's fascinating performance, which suggests a woman existing in slow motion because anything more rapid would have her crawling the walls. A movie about her would really be something.

But this is about Bukowski. The press notes again trumpet the writer's famous observation that 'some people never go crazy ' what truly horrible lives they must lead,â?� and Dillon's Chinaski echoes the same sort of essentially juvenile brand of liquor-rugged individualism. (Does anyone over the age of 17 read and take seriously Bukowski's occasionally colorful work?)

The film's impartial, nonjudgmental eye actually undermines Factotum as a drama, as an anti-morality tale or as whatever the hell it wants to be. Whether it's Taylor's dipsomaniac freaking out or Chinaski making an ass of himself for no discernible reason at his parent's house, the same flat style is employed.

Dillon's Chinaski ' who varies from near-comatose disinterest to near-comatose mild annoyance ' does little to advance the cause of wasted writers as noble observers of human foibles. Still, in a key scene that might be a summary, we see Chinaski, after selling his first short story but unaware he's done so, sitting in a dive where a lone stripper works the pole in front of a slumped-over customer.

This setting occasions a victorious voice-over by Chinaski, which actually serves to make his life's work seem a combination of meaningless small triumphs and self-delusion. Had this been the film's starting point, it might have served as a promising, honest look at the author. But it isn't. Or perhaps it's simply because, when taking Bukowski at his sodden word, there simply isn't much there there.


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