Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei, Fisher Stevens, Didier Flammand, Adrienne Shelly, Karen Young, Tom Lyons"/>
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With: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei, Fisher Stevens, Didier Flammand, Adrienne Shelly, Karen Young, Tom Lyons
Written by: Bent Hamer & Jim Stark, based on "Factotum" and other stories, poems by Charles Bukowski
Directed by: Bent Hamer
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexual content
Running Time: 94
Date: 04/12/2005

Factotum (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Odd Jobs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Old Hollywood wisdom suggests that it's a bad idea to make movies about writers because the act of writing is not particularly visual or dynamic.

That hasn't stopped filmmakers from telling sordid tales of writers and their lives away from the typewriter: tales of alcohol and drugs, suicides, obsessions, depressions and otherwise odd behavior.

Based on an original screenplay by Charles Bukowski, Barbet Schroeder's Barfly (1987), celebrated the carefree writer's life, slogging through the long hours between each Happy Hour. It was an inebriated blast, with a lolling, jutting performance by Mickey Rourke at the center.

In that film, Rourke played Bukowski's fictitious alter ego Hank Chinaski, who meets a lady barfly, Wanda Wilcox (Faye Dunaway), and spends most of the film with her, ostensibly in love, but really looking for more booze. In the end, he publishes a couple of short stories.

Nearly 20 years later, Matt Dillon takes up the Hank Chinaski mantle in the new film Factotum, based on the 1975 Bukowski novel of the same name. Factotum opens at the Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco, the California Theater in Berkeley and the Piedmont Theater in Oakland.

According to my computer dictionary, the word "factotum" means "somebody employed to do a variety of jobs for somebody else." Webster's has it as: "someone used in a household, small business etc. for jobs of many kinds."

Either way, Factotum becomes perhaps the first writer movie to show the writer at work -- doing something else. But in living this kind of blue collar, vagabond life, Bukowski/Chinaski reaped the harvest that would feed his literary output.

Hot from his recent Oscar nomination for Crash (with a pit stop for the dreadful comedy You, Me & Dupree), Dillon makes a captivating Chinaski. He avoids the scenery-chewing showcase of Rourke's performance, though he does adopt the same kind of rolling, devil-may-care speech.

Dillon's Chinaski spends most of the film working, or looking for work, or avoiding work. He begins by driving an ice truck, but when his delivery takes him to a bar, he stops off for a drink. The boss catches him sitting at the bar and he gets fired between sips.

Writer/director Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories) plays these scenes with a kind of quiet whimsy. As Chinaski saunters toward the bar, he halfheartedly slams the delivery truck's freezer door, which pops back open, unnoticed.

Factotum unfolds almost in vignettes, more like short stories. Chinaski decides he could be a journalist, but when a newspaper decides to hire him, it's to clean a giant sculpture in the lobby. Later, he gets a job stuffing auto parts into boxes; the boss tells him not to smoke, and he immediately steps out for one.

Neither job lasts very long, and there are no repercussions.

Chinaski meets a girl, Jan (Lili Taylor), who provides the film's main connective tissue. They genuinely love one another and seem perfectly happy with their simple lives. But when Chinaski comes into a horse racing scam with a co-worker (Fisher Stevens) and suddenly strikes it rich, Jan gets angry with him. He has made their lives too complicated.

During one of their separations, Chinaski spends time with Laura (Marisa Tomei), who has become the trophy lover of a millionaire in exchange for drugs and booze.

Chinaski provides a running voiceover, using Bukowski's tough, tender words, letting us know that he has been submitting stories to Black Sparrow Press. Eventually one gets accepted.

Sort of like the daytime version of Barfly's nights, Factotum is a trifle, but one filled with amusing, even touching moments. In one scene, Chinaski has applied too much anti-crab ointment to his nether-regions, and Jan selflessly comes to his rescue; Taylor's earnestness and love is far more revealing than anything in Barfly.

In one memorable shot, Chinaski looks out the window of a building. Hamer's camera tracks back and back and back, revealing a huge blank will with a tiny Chinaski face in the center, high above but also part of this bleak, working class cityscape.

At one point, Chinaski's voiceover says something to the effect that, one must give something to really create, and to be prepared to give up something in the process, whether it's a job, family, love or even dignity.

In last year's Capote, Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) proved this point with his obsession over finishing a particular book, putting everything -- including his own soul -- at risk to do so.

To be sure, Factotum is a crazy quilt of occupations and ideas, and it's not quite as focused or dignified as Capote, but it's still a similar journey. Chinaski just makes different and more frequent stops along the same road.

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