Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: R for language and nudity
Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Matt Dillon proves that when it comes to drama he’s more than a one-trick pony.
Based on the acclaimed second novel of Charles Bukowski, “Factotum” unspools the tale of alter-ego Henry Chinaski (Dillon). He calls himself a writer but his life is more about hard living than putting pen to paper.
Chinaski’s quest for self-destruction is an undulating bell curve, riding on a wing and a prayer and a tidal wave of cheap booze. When Chinaski falls for unemployed drifter Jan (Lili Taylor) it’s a match made in derelict heaven, two luckless losers making a soulful connection based on little more than randy sex.
But Chinaski discovers more – a little more -- to life when he makes it big at the racetrack and high rolls his way into a job. Jan wants none of it and the relationship sours, putting Chinaski back on the streets. A chance meeting at a local bar nets him another adventure with perpetually stoned call girl Laura (Marisa Tomei), one of several mistresses of an eccentric millionaire.
A series of dead end jobs and bouts of binge drinking are the foundation of onscreen shenanigans that become thought-provoking paper tales. Dillon’s voice-over captures some of Bukowski’s most earnest prose, such pearls of wisdom as “If you’re going to try, go all the way – otherwise don’t even start” and my personal favorite “Life grinding against death and losing”.
Director Bent Hamer maintains the element of sleaze that made Bukowski one of his generation’s most beloved scribes. The result is a depressing and disenfranchised film that nonetheless manages to inject a gauzy glimmer of hope between sordid vignettes. Minimal dialogue helps rather than hurts the cause, keeping it real with abstract intellect.
I dislike this genre; the kind that has me yearning for a shower to scrub off the scum. And I loathe the monotony of a lost soul embracing his inevitable descent to the bottom of a bottle. But with Dillon at the helm Bukowski’s muse comes alive; chaotic and maddening but eminently watchable.