This drama centers on Hank Chinaski, the fictional alter-ego of "Factotum" author Charles Bukowski, who wanders around Los Angeles, CA trying to live off jobs which don't interfere with his primary interest, which is writing. Along the way, he fends off the distractions offered by women, drinking and gambling.
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Self-declared aspiring writer Hank Chinaski has neither qualifications, ambition nor ethics. Any dead-end job he lands is soon lost through laziness or mischief. His relationship with fellow deadbeat Jan gets strained to crisis through her insecurity, so he even gives up betting on horses which brought in easy money. Written by
Deliciously acerbic, wickedly funny, fast paced, expertly crafted dark comedy. Based on an autobiographical novel by the misanthropic Charles Bukowski, The Norwegian co-writer-director Bent Hamer, who made the droll 2003 comedy, "Kitchen Stories," has created a nearly perfect film here. Factotum, we are told in the opening credits, is a word that means "a person who performs many jobs." Indeed, the story is more-or-less organized around the myriad jobs sought and botched by the protagonist, unsuccessful short story writer and all around lowlife Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon). The other principal organizing focus in Chinaski's life is the women he squeezes and drinks with, primarily slutty Jan (Lili Taylor) and, more passingly, the somewhat classier Laura (Marisa Tomei). Rounding out the cast are Henry's horse race handicapping buddy Manny (Fisher Stevens) and Pierre, a wealthy Frenchman who composes operas and surrounds himself with prostitutes (Didier Flamand).
If one were to posit a film genre called comedy noir - dark, devilish American comedies set in lowlife surrounds like taverns and sleazy apartments, when possible dimly lit and narrated by the anti-hero protagonist, intoning in flat, world-weary, matter-of-fact voiceovers, as in a Raymond Chandler detective story - then "Factotum" would be the defining film for this genre. What other films to include? Among recent ones, "Hustle & Flow" comes quickly to mind. "The Big Lebowski," and maybe some other films by the Coens. Quite a lot of Jim Jarmusch's oeuvre, but "Down By Law" for sure. Steve Buscemi's "Trees Lounge." "Pulp Fiction," of course. This film is steeped in richly cynical dialogue, well written (in collaboration with Jim Stark, who also co-wrote "Cold Fever"), well photographed (by John Christian Rosenlund), and well edited (alas, no credit is given for this achievement on either the IMDb or the film's own website). Dillon and Taylor give superb turns. My grade: 10/10 (A)
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