Factotum Bent Hamer

Pulling from various works, including the novel of the same name, Factotum tells the story of Henry Chinaski, the self-rendered literary persona of American icon Charles Bukowski. Like Bukowski, Chinaski apathetically drifts from job to job, drinks a hell of a lot, gambles at the track, likes a good pair of legs and is driven by a pervasive, relentless, sustaining compulsion to write.

Writer-director Bent Hamer doesn’t do much with material that would have been best left in its purest form — between the pages of Bukowski’s novels — but his previous work at least proves he is sensitive to the cheeky humour of a poet who will pen the lines, "when you left/you left behind/three pairs of panties/and I’m too fat to/wear them” when describing anger and loss. Hamer’s earlier films, Eggs (1995) and Kitchen Stories (2003), are absurd, restrained comedies, successes in poignant, ironic social observation.

Unlike Mickey Rourke’s hammy portrayal in 1987’s Barfly, (who Bukowski said, "got it wrong, all wrong”), Matt Dillon’s Chinaski is (mostly) solemn, (a little) weary and always deadpan — much closer in character to the writer himself. Lili Taylor does what she does best as a girlfriend with low self-esteem, who after enough time, you can’t help feeling he’d be better off without. Marisa Tomei (with no more than a 15-minute on-screen performance) transforms a potentially one-dimensional tart into a strange, tender girl that you wish the camera stuck around to find more about.

However, despite decent acting and a few good one-liners, Factotum is yet another needless film to add to the library of Hollywood literary adaptations. I think e-journaler Jon Konwrath said it best in a recent online entry; "So, yeah, don’t rush to the theatre unless you already own all 60-something of Bukowski’s books and you feel an obligation. Or if you want to see Marisa Tomei topless for, like, two seconds.”

(Alliance Atlantis)