| September 3, 2006

“A slow day moving into a slow night…”
Factotum, Bent Hamer’s adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s novel, is exactly that–a slow day moving into a slow night, and not much more. That line is from Bukowski’s work. It’s used as a lyric in the song over the closing credits of the film and it really couldn’t sum up this movie, and what’s wrong with it, any better.
Matt Dillon plays Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s fictional alter ego. He drinks and writes with fervor. He suffers and loses one dead-end job after another. Then muddles his way through several parasitic relationships with equally deadbeat girlfriends (played by Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei). Chinaski leads, as Bukowski did, a seedy life on the fringe with a burning need to write as the only upside to his ramshackle existence.
Factotum depicts this existence in episode after episode of drinking, smoking, writing, working, getting fired, sex and spats between barroom lovers–much like the novel. But each episode is so loosely connected to the others in the film that the whole plays at times like a disjointed collection of shorts with no deeper meaning. In what I can only see as an attempt to offset this, Hamer utilizes excerpts from Bukowski’s work in voice-over to reach for something more in the film, but fails in the process.
It’s a strange pull in two different directions that doesn’t serve the whole well at all. As I watched the picture, I hungered for something in the voiceover’s that wasn’t so obviously indebted to Bukowski, the myth. I mean I’ve seen Barfly and Bukowski at Bellevue. I’m fully aware of the iconic nature of the man. What I wanted here was something more personal. Something insightful about him as he struggles to make a go of his writing career, bound by his ironclad determination to write above all else. Unfortunately, that insight never came.
There are some worthy elements to Factotum. Most prominent is Matt Dillon’s performance. He truly captures Bukowski’s body language and laconic nature. He disappears seamlessly into character and breathes as much dimension as he can into such ultimately listless material. Also, the dry humor on display in the endless parade of meaningless dead-end jobs provides some much needed relief.
In the end, Factotum suffers greatly from that all too familiar Bukowski myth–the drunken bard of the barstool. Bent Hamer’s obvious reverence for this myth prevents the film from truly capturing the heart of the source material. That heart is the debunking of the starving artist myth that Bukowski utilized as the binding agent to the episodes in the novel. Though Hamer reaches for it, he’s too precious with the idea of who Bukowski’s become in the eyes of his fans. Because of this the film meanders for an hour and a half through the usual Bukowski antics before it just decides to quit. It is, as Bukowski so brutally put it in that line from above, “just another slow day moving into a slow night.” In other words? All too forgettable.

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