Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a review of the flick FACTOTUM, a drama playing Sundance starring Matt Dillon based on the novel by Charles Bukowski. This one's a shiny one. Read on!
"Factotum" is the closest anyone has, or likely will ever, come to capturing the essence of Charles Bukowski on film. The novel "Factotum" is Bukowski's booze-soaked account of the countless jobs and women he plowed through between the mid-1940s and around 1960. Matt Dillon stars as Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, who just can't keep a job. He has a nasty habit of getting caught drinking in nearby bars during work hours; several times during the film his boss du jour tracks him down at a bar and fires him on the spot.
Dillon, in some of the best work of his career, hits the absolute perfect blend of deadpan humor (this is a very dry, very funny film) and, well, deadness and sustains it throughout. Lili Taylor gives a best supporting actress-worthy performance as Chinaski's on again/off again lover and boozing companion Jan. She really sparkles here. Former best supporting actresss Marisa Tomei is also fine as the woman with whom Chinaski has a brief fling before he runs back to Jan.
The film was shot in Minneapolis/St. Paul in the present day; the producer, Jim Stark, said in the Q&A after the screening that he and director Bent Hamer (a native of Norway; the film was largely financed by Norwegian backers) thought it was unnecessary to do it as a period piece because alcoholism is timeless.
Although I generally balk at extensive voiceovers, Dillon's recitations of Bukowski's poems are quite effective, particularly the last one he reads, "A Poem is a City." The many interesting facets of Bukowski are on display here, including his considerable skills as a horseplayer; Bukowski was capable of sustaining runs at the track that could net him thousands of dollars, enabling him to live in a higher style for a time (expensive tailored suits, fine cigars, top-shelf liquor), but the booze always took its toll, and before long he was back living in flophouses and running through his seemingly endless cycle of dead-end jobs and barflies.
Reading Bukowski and watching "Factotum," one is prompted to wonder what his life would have been like without his prolific drinking problem (he could down three bottles of wine in one evening and still feel the need for a six-pack nightcap). But Bukowski wrote only about himself, and it is hard to tell where the booze ends and his life begins; he came very quickly to need the bottle to fuel his writing, and without it, he might have been an accountant or a lawyer with nothing to say. Instead of pondering what might have been, "Factotum" reminds us that it is best to accept Bukowski for what he was: a deeply flawed man who loved women, booze and horses in equal measure and lived life one bottle at a time until the last one ran empty.