"There will always be something to ruin our lives, it all depends on what or which finds us first. We are always ripe and ready to be taken." —Charles Bukowski

Against all expectations, Matt Dillon has joined the very short list of '80s teen heartthrobs who've kept their dignity intact while developing a respectable body of work (Me and Dupree notwithstanding). In particular, his Oscar-nominated performance as a racist cop in Crash was a complex depiction of moral ugliness.

In Bent Hamer's Factotum — based on the novel by Charles Bukowski — Dillon once again pushes past his chiseled leading-man looks to create a convincing portrait of blue-collar unpleasantness. Henry Chinaski (Bukowski's literary alter ego) is a lowlife alcoholic who's beyond recovery or redemption. His passions in life encompass not only drinking and smoking but also writing, which allows him to maintain a modicum of idealism and dignity.

Ruddy-faced and sporting a few extra pounds, Dillon shuffles and slurs his way through the film like a man who's unconcerned with social expectations and unapologetic about his addictions. Still, he gives Chinaski surprising moments of poise and grace. It's a terrific performance that dispels the hammy narcissism of Mickey Rourke in Barfly (another film based on Bukowski's work, one the author allegedly hated).

Equally impressive is Lili Taylor as Jan, Henry's on-again, off-again alcoholic lover. Tapping into her character's fragility and sincerity, Taylor turns an otherwise repulsive drunk into a touching and human portrayal. Both Taylor and Dillon perfectly capture the nature of codependence and addiction. There's nothing showy or dramatic in the lovers' self-destructive behavior; it's just one damn thing after another.

Bukowski's literary work — less autobiographical and more a calculated persona — brims with the gutter nobility of drunks, whores and gamblers as they move from job to job, bar to bar, bed to bed. The endless cycle of unemployment, drunken rages and sordid sex becomes a rebellious means to an end, and Factotum does a great job of capturing the author's style and spirit.

Norwegian writer-director Hamer makes good use of his Minneapolis locales, choosing its crumbling industrial cityscape over Bukowski's sleazy L.A. haunts. His offhand, no-frills approach complements Henry's dismal, dreamlike shamble through life, without ever crossing the line into pathos (something Bukowski scorned).

Factotum enthusiastically embraces its smoky bars, puke-stained bathrooms and vulgar characters with a passion that should please even the most discerning Bukowski fan. But those with softer sensibilities will probably leave the theater wanting to take a shower.


Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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