Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei, Fisher Stevens
Charles Bukowski, Bent Hamer, Jim Stark
|If you ever read the "About Us" section on IndependentCritics.com, my original website, then you already know that Charles Bukowski, on whose novel "Factotum" is based, is one of my favorite authors and, hands down, my favorite poem.
Cinematically, we first met Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, in the vastly under-appreciated "Barfly," a film starring Mickey Rourke for which Bukowski wrote the screenplay. Over 10 years after Bukowski's death, Chinaski is back in "Factotum," a vastly different film than "Barfly" with Matt Dillon as Chinaski.
"Factotum," quite simply, has a limited audience. Odds are strong that even diehard Bukowski fans are going to watch the film, get to the end, and think to themselves "Man, that ain't Bukowski." Despite the involvement of Bukowski's widow, Linda, and Black Sparrow Press, Bukowski's longtime publisher, "Factotum" is less dark, less gritty and less ugly than "Barfly."
As directed by Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer, "Factotum" cuts the crap, plays down the drama and just presents Bukowski as a drinking, writing and fucking man who seldom held a real job for more than a few days either because he was so drunk he couldn't function or because he just didn't give a damn.
In "Barfly," Barbet Schroeder turned the film into a sort of hyperactive look at an immensely talented but utterly hopeless writer. Most likely, Schroeder presented Bukowski the way most of us read Bukowski...with emotion and drama and sarcasm and bitterness and hopelessness and just about every other negative emotion in the book.
Hamer's film is different. Startlingly different. In fact, "Factotum" is uncomfortably different. Hamer's film has a calm acceptance of Bukowski that almost makes it feel like a Jim Jarmusch film. This may be, in part, due to the presence of longtime Jarmusch producer Jim Stark as a co-writer for the script. It may, however, just be because Hamer, in having the cooperation of Linda Bukowski, has been able to tape into a more authentic essence of Bukowski. "Factotum" transcends the dramatic illusion of Bukowski and presents him as more of an "as is" work in progress.
Dillon is rather unsettling as Chinaski. Dillon lacks Rourke's intensity and darkness, but replaces it with a Chinaski who is dry, matter of fact and completely unaware of anything beyond the given moment. "Factotum" is Dillon's finest performance, exceeding even his Oscar-nominated performance in "Crash."
Being based upon Bukowski, one can expect a considerable amount of booze and a considerable amount of sex. First, Chinaski shacks up with Jan (Lili Taylor), whom he meets in a bar and moves in with that night. Their relationship is passionate, sexual, innocent, violent and almost always fueled by alcohol. Taylor, who captured the Golden Swan for Best Actress at the Copenhagen Film Festival for her performance here, should see an Independent Spirit nomination come her way for Best Actress. Her performance is undoubtedly worthy of an Oscar nomination, however, the Academy proved years ago that it lacks the courage to recognize bold, courageous independent films. While Dillon's performance lacks anything resembling sympathy, Taylor's performance as Jan is a tad more playful and warm. She adds just enough humanity to make you wish to hell that this relationship would work out. Of course, there's not a chance in hell that it will.
After his first break-up with Jan, Chinaski takes up with Laura (Marisa Tomei). Laura is another bar pick-up who spends most of her time being kept by Pierre, an odd little millionaire. While this relationship is short-lived, it adds a desperately needed energy and attitude to "Factotum." Tomei is nearly unrecognizable here, and makes Laura a vastly different, yet equally rich complement to Jan. Tomei, who gives her first nude scene in this film, is smoldering, emotional, funny, sad and glorious in what amounts to only a few minutes on screen. Yet, she brings these emotions out without ever becoming a caricature or creating such emotion that it makes the film seem lopsided. In essence, Tomei merely presents a different perspective on the same picture for Chinaski. Her performance here again makes me wonder how Tomei has so drifted from the cinematic scene. She consistently accepts challenging and diverse roles...and consistently she nails them.
Were it left up to these three performances, "Factotum" would be one of 2006's best films. While "Factotum" is a wonderful, unique interpretation of Bukowski's novel, it does become somewhat repetitive and a bit meaningless over the course of 105 minutes. While one could certainly argue that writing, sex and alcohol would become repetitive, there's simply no doubt that a tad more variation would have made Hamer's film more effective. While it's easy to admire Hamer's courage in presenting Chinaski "as is," "Factotum" also never really captures Bukowski's well noted verbosity, passion and irreverence. Even his scenes of conflict are played very much episodically. While Bukowski's poetry is recited at times throughout the film, it often feels like Hamer's trying to turn "Factotum" into cinematic poetry. It's an admirable goal, but it is only partially successful.
Linda Bukowski has praised this film for not buying into the illusion of Bukowski. While "Barfly" gave us a dirty, gritty Bukowski, Linda Bukowski has stated that he was actually quite neat and clean even when drunk. While this more balanced and accurate portrayal often works quite well, there are still times when Hamer's film feels too clean a portrayal of the life Chinaski had to have lived before he started to experience writing success in his mid 30's. The film seldom varies from its rather straightforward cinematic approach. This, in turn, makes it feel as if Chinaski was the same whether at work, writing, having sex or drinking. As a man noted for his extreme passion and devotion to writing, this lack of atmospheric variation becomes a bit disturbing by the film's end.
"Factotum" is a unique, largely successful interpretation of the work and life of Charles Bukowski. Vastly different from "Barfly," "Factotum" features outstanding performances from Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei working together in creating the unique cinematic vision of director Bent Hamer. "Factotum" is, on a certain level, much like Bukowski himself...impossible to love, impossible to hate and impossible to ignore.
God, I miss Bukowski.
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic