Factotum


Certificate: 15
Running time: 94 mins
Director: Bent Hamer
Starring: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Fisher Stevens
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Country: USA

Director Bent Hamer (Eggs) takes adapting duties on script and screen for Charles Bukowski’s 1975 novel Factotum.  Henry Chinaski (Bukowski’s alter ego) drinks, smokes and screws from job-to-job and woman-to-woman during an era of male emasculation and disillusionment.

Bukowski is a writer whose work is almost impossible to adapt.  His prose are so heavily filled with language and beauty that to accurately represent it on screen would require a ten hour film, and even at that it still wouldn’t come up to what fans of his work hoped for.  Hamer, as screenwriter, has done an admirable job in creating a cinematic offering that’s faithful to Hank’s incredibly visual works.  With large sections lifted straight from Factotum and several of his short stories and poems it’s very much a fan piece.  The screenplay reads like Bukowski, it sounds like Bukowski and has a wonderfully picaresque quality to it’s set pieces that are characteristic of the author.

Hamer’s influence comes into it’s own on screen.  It’s evident that Factotum (the film) has been updated from the book, it’s not a period piece but yet it is.  There are moments when the film feels very much a product of the now, an offering of the twenty-first century yet there are some wonderful small moments that are discarded that hint to an era.  A post depression America, a time that influenced Bukowski greatly.  His formative years coupled with the finest years of his literary god John Fante.  It’s a rich, vibrant looking film yet it’s more antique rich than fresh out of the packaging and it’s this use of camera, light and palette that guarantees the film is as timeless looking as Hank’s words on the page. 

Matt Dillon (as Chinaski) is great.  Like Mickey Rourke before him (Barfly) he’s captured that piss-sure arrogance that the man himself had in his walk, in the way he entered a room, in how he interacted with people.  Bukowski would walk into a room like he owned it and everyone around him, Dillon has that aura in his performance in spades.  It’s truly impressive, rarely has he delivered a performance that’s so powerful and yet beautifully restrained.  Lili Taylor has been one of my favourite performers for years.  She’s an actress that’s not just incredible but also incredibly underrated and as Jan she anchors the film, not to mention what’s a key relationship in the source material.  She’s Hank’s great love.  She’s crazy, but you can’t help but feel that he’s driven her halfway there.  Their relationship is fantastic, beautifully destructive and yet essential to living.  It’s toxic air yes, but it’s still air.  Taylor’s also allowed to showcase a sexual quality that she isn’t often afforded.  She has a sensual vulnerability to her that’s attractive and yet dangerous.  Fisher Stevens is also really good in his small role as Hank’s racetrack buddy.  Those chapters of Factotum had real pace, hilarity and were genuinely some of my favourites.  It would be great if we were given the similar amount of screen time between them as there is on the page because Stevens and Dillon really had something between then.


Factotum is a great example of how genuine love and admiration for a piece of literature can deliver an incredibly faithful adaptation.  The problem with that, and I can’t believe I’m saying it, is because it’s so faithful to the source material it lacks some of that crazy energy that Hank had in abundance.  It’s a brilliant and admirable adaptation but a critical element in any movie, something that’s threaded through Barfly.  Parts of the film have it.  Dillon has it, Taylor is riddled with it and some of the set pieces have a great energy on screen but overall the film cruises along at an accessible and safe speed.  Fortunately it's got some damn good writing, powerful prose and is packed with inspiration and topped off with a two fingered salute to the world and it's rules.



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