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
The leading figure in Factotum (which means a jack of all trades) is Henry Chinaski. The movie, written and directed by Bent Hamer, a Norwegian, is based on the novel of the same name by Charles Bukowski, who died in 1994. Like Chinaski, Bukowski was a drunk, indulged in casual sex, and liked to gamble; and most of Bukowski's books, including Factotum, are based on his own experiences in and out of blue collar worker. Also, like his creator, Chinaski is a writer, albeit unpublished as yet. Nevertheless, it is probably best NOT to approach this film as a partial biography of Bukowski, but simply as a fictional movie based on his writings.
Chinaski, played by Matt Dillon, is the ultimate, irresponsible goof-off, living just above the level of skid row, who gets work when he needs cash for booze etc, but invariably gets fired within days or weeks. Told not to smoke in a particular workplace, he lights up once the boss is out of the way; asked to make a delivery, he drives the van away while it's still connected to an electric plug, leaves the van door open and drifts into a bar. Even outside work, he behaves perversely - notably leaving ointment on his private parts overnight, when he's been told that one hour is the absolute limit! And Chinaski, though initially appearing mildly passive, is not averse to violence, even to women.
The man's sole redeeming features are his belief in himself as a writer, and his persistence in writing and submitting his work. (His main redeeming feature should be his actual talent for writing, but the film gives us little evidence of this, except for a few Bukowski quotes, which in any case are mainly about his belief in himself.) .
Dillon fits this role like a glove. By turns, he sleepwalks, staggers and rampages through the movie - that is, when Chinaski isn't drinking in bars or sleeping it off with or without a woman. And, because this is fiction rather than biography, Dillon can mitigate his deplorable behaviour and slovenly dress simply with his good looks and dark eyes. One suspects that in real life Bukowski was far less likable than his cinematic alter ego.
Chinaski's main squeeze for most of the movie, bravely and quite unglamorously portrayed by Lili Taylor, is Jan who shares her lover's fondness for alcohol and a slacker life. In one sequence, when he has split from Jan, Chinaski encounters a glossier woman, Laura (Marisa Tomei), who introduces him to a more bourgeois world; but this doesn't last long, and he soon reverts to his usual round of drink and casual jobs. (Incidentally, I found the sound quality in the whole Marisa Tomei sequence quite poor, and missed much of the dialogue.)
I'm not too sure what anybody uninterested in Bukowski (or Matt Dillon) will make of this movie; but if you're looking for something in English other than blockbusters, rom-coms, costume dramas etc - this is it. And, whatever your view of the movie, if you haven't already done so, read some Bukowski - you'll love it!
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