Factotum

on August 18, 2006 by Sheri Linden
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Approaching Charles Bukowski's tales of the edge with far fewer fireworks than the memorable "Barfly" sent up, helmer Bent Hamer mainly gets it right in "Factotum." The Norwegian-U.S.-German co-production's restraint and Minneapolis/St. Paul locations bolster the script's matter-of-fact style, and the lean feature benefits from a wonderfully gruff performance by Matt Dillon as Bukowski alter-ego Hank Chinaski.

Based on Bukowski's 1975 novel of the same name, along with other writings by the Los Angeles scribe, "Factotum" posits Hank as a man committed to serial employment--one low-stress job after another, allowing him to focus on what matters: drinking, gambling, sex and, not least, the short stories he submits to small-press magazines every week. Hank inevitably is fired from every job, usually for taking extended workday breaks at dive bars. He finds a simpatico partner in fellow alcoholic and on-again, off-again girlfriend Jan (a lived-in performance from Lili Taylor). But when he hits a winning stride running a betting service with a co-worker (Fisher Stevens), his tailored suits and big cigars irritate Jan; she prefers him as a bum. There are offhand instances of Hank's chivalrous side--when he leaves Jan mid-hangover, he gives her half his cash--as well as evidence that he can be a brute. But mainly he's a self-contained man of extremes. The film's flat affect is a key strength, although it might frustrate some viewers. Hamer shows the characters' hard-drinking days and nights without judgment or apology.

The script excerpts the writer's poetry and prose sparingly and to good effect, Dillon's gravelly delivery full of an instinctive, deep feel for language. Marisa Tomei makes an impression in the uncharacteristic role of a barfly of faded elegance, and Didier Flamand is well-cast as a wealthy but stingy patron of young women. The film, which screened in the Cannes festival's Directors' Fortnight sidebar, is dedicated to actress Katrin Cartlidge. Starring Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Didier Flamand, Marisa Tomei and Fisher Stevens. Directed by Bent Hamer. Written by Bent Hamer and Jim Stark. Produced by Jim Stark and Bent Hamer. An IFC release. Drama. Rated R for language and sexual content. Running time: 93 min

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