Bukowski in the flesh


Picturehouse and IFC Films

Directed by Bent Hamer

Screenplay by Bent Hamer and Jim Stark, based on the novel by Charles Bukowski

Starring: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Fisher Stevens, Marisa Tomei and James Cada

Rated R/94 minutes

Opens Sept. 8, 2006

Three-and-a-half out of four stars

Guy walks into a bar. He just got fired-after one day on the job, no less. He pulls up a stool, downs a half-dozen whiskey sours and two-thirds of a bottle of scotch, then tops it all off with a few beers. He finds a fellow barfly-a lady, the kind whose weathered face hides a former beauty-and takes her to bed. Often it’s the same lady as the night before. Sometimes not. He gets up in the morning, throws up and then opens up another beer. Then he hits the streets to find himself a job.

This is the life of Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon), the alter-ego of cult author Charles Bukowski. It never changes. He is comfortable with this. He never keeps a job. He never stops drinking or settles down. He never has a grand epiphany and turns his unsavory life around. All he needs is enough money to pay for his room and drink all night. And he writes.

To see him work job after job, one might say he’s undisciplined and unmotivated. Not so. It’s just that his discipline is focused in another area. He has the self-discipline for two things: Writing and drinking. Everything else can fall by the wayside. Chinaski (Matt Dillon) submits short stories to various publications-which typically get rejected-and says he’s working on a novel.

“What’s your novel about?” the manager at the pickle factory, Henry’s newest job, asks.

“Everything,” Henry answers.

“So it’s about cancer?”


“What about?my wife?”

“She’s in there, too.”

The dry wit with which Dillon delivers his lines is the key to his brilliant, Oscar-worthy performance but is practically impossible to fully reflect in print.

To call “Factotum” (meaning, in short, ‘a man of many jobs’) episodic would be an understatement. There is little to no plot structure-but then, such a structure wouldn’t be appropriate to the material. This is the way Henry’s life works-he works, he gets fired, he drinks, he screws, he writes. Rinse, repeat. Along the way, he works at an ice company. A pickle factory. A bicycle repair shop. The New York Times?as a janitor. He starts to spend his afternoons at the racetrack for a few weeks and makes a couple bucks. He shacks up with an equally depressive woman named Jan (Lili Taylor). They live together, they break up, they eventually meet again, depending on circumstance.

Like the best of Bukowski’s fiction, this film is darkly, savagely funny. Consider the scene in which Henry discovers that Jan, as he puts it, “gave me the crabs”-and the way Jan wraps his genitals in saran wrap so they won’t itch during his upcoming job interview. The way Dillon reacts to such a ceremony is comic genius.

Staying close to the novel of the same name, the film takes the degradation and frivolity of Henry’s day-to-day life and finds the humor in it, and even the soul.

“Yeah, uh, in my spare time, I construct statues of pumas out of old VHS tape.” Matt Dillon lies to Lili Taylor in “Factotum.”