Release Date: August 18th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Bent Hamer Actors: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei, Fisher Stevens, Didier Flamand, Adrienne Shelly, Karen Young
actotum” divides its audience in two – and allows the larger group to perish. Every scene and bit of dialogue seems purposeful but disagreeable, as it’s based on the controversial tales of Charles Bukowski, a rebellious, perplexing, unapologetically alcoholic novelist and poet. Excellent acting, a sanguine score, and atmospheric cinematography can’t save this film from its emotionless, monotonic, and routinely discomforting screenplay.
Hank Chinaski (Matt Dillon) travels around Los Angeles, working to make a few bucks at random, dreary jobs so that he can pay rent, buy booze, gamble on horses, and have time left over to write. He narrates the film intermittently, especially when long passages of time elapse. After trying his luck at several unconventional gigs, including an ice delivery service and a pickle factory, he meets Jan (Lili Taylor), with whom he immediately begins a relationship. They manage to spend time in an indifferent, autopilot mode, continually interrupted by bouts of drinking and sex. But in his constant state of drunkenness, Chinaski eventually leaves Jan, and meets Laura (Marisa Tomei), whom he also lives with for awhile in an inebriated stupor.
As far as the plot goes, that’s about it. The film shows little more than a series of events in Hank’s life that never really amount to much or lead anywhere even remotely satisfactory. It’s very much an observation, a slice-of-life sampling of a wayward man’s perspective on existence, occupations, and companionship – best supplemented by a bottle of liquor.
Hank Chinaski is the alter ego of Charles Bukowski, an author well known for his dark humor, loose moralities, and antisocial philosophies. His meandering pursuit of freedoms and non-accomplishments (set in and out of bars) was previously filmed – to more critical acclaim – by Barbet Schroeder in “Barfly,” with Mickey Rourke playing the role of Chinaski. Unfortunately, as with so many recent art films, unfamiliarity with the writer and his works will certainly prevent viewers from appreciating such a singular viewpoint. Although “Factotum” may depict Bukowski’s poetry, style, and mood with uncanny accuracy, it fails to be appealing as a motion picture and will be assuredly disappointing to general audiences.
This is in large part because the characters are despicable and filthy; they trudge through life uncaring and unaware. They are also static, remaining the same from start to finish, which parallels the theme of an unflinching and unchanging world, where no event influences Chinaski in the same way that it does everyone else. The exercise ends on a somewhat poignant philosophical note, but nothing remarkable happens to any of the characters. Similarly, a major conflict never rears its head and no one ends up any better or worse than they started out. It’s difficult to relate to or sympathize with any of the personas when they never show any concern for the situations they are in.
Dillon, however, does a solid job of conveying constant dipsomania, apathy, and nonchalant qualities, which are often humorous to see and undoubtedly faithful to Bukowski’s own attitudes. His actions and speech are all slow and gradual, impersonating calculated opinions when they are, in fact, wholly disinterested, canned responses. There are almost no laugh-out-loud funny moments, but subtle, deadpan comedy permeates nearly every scene.
The cinematography appropriately matches the alienated and unkempt lifestyles of Hank and Jan, while the film retains a seasoned and professional sense of production. Los Angeles feels as gritty and hopeless as the unavailing characters, starkly contrasted by a soundtrack that is relaxed and sympathetic. Nevertheless, in Chinaski’s utter disregard for betterment or pursuing the American Dream, Norwegian director Bent Hamer will lose all but the most devoted fans of the source material – which includes the novel of the same name and pieces from “What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire” and “The Days Run Aways Like Horses Over the Hill.”
– Mike Massie