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Murder Slim Review: FACTOTUM

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As Matt Dillon was honing his craft on BEVERLEY HILLS 90210 in the early 90s, I wonder if Bukowski looked at a TV screen and thought: "Ah yeah... one day that pretty boy will be the perfect choice to play me...."

Yet Dillon is much better than you'd think, so don't let the apparent miscasting put you off. While Dillon doesn't capture the furious energy of Mickey Rourke in BARFLY, he does capture a more laid-back and introspective Bukowski. Dillon's done a decent job of fucking up his good looks over the years, and he's caught the gentle voice and the hunched walk. It's a good performance.

Although called FACTOTUM, the movie isn't a direct adaption of the novel. There are chunks of it and a series of lousy jobs (loved the "super durable break shoes" guy), but there's also stuff added from some of Bukowksi's other stories. It concentrates more on comedic tales: with Henry accidentally crashing cars, repeatedly getting fired, stealing cash, and - above all - getting caught in funny conversations:
"What do you write?" asks one interviewer.
"Mostly short stories. I'm halfway through a novel," Hank replies.
"What's it about?"
"You mean, for instance, it's about... cancer?"
"How about my wife?"
"...She's in there too."

But FACTOTUM isn't all about the laughs. Hank often pops up on a voiceover, giving world-weary poetic thoughts on the situation. And he also does the usual round of betting on horses, writing and hooking up with fucked-up gals.

Like BARFLY, we have another character representing Jane. Only instead of "Wanda", she's called "Jan" in this one. I liked this Jane more, from the psychotic way she fucks and loves, to her constant obsession with booze. Her volatility works well against the more laid-back Chinaski. I also loved their first break-up scene, which is immensely genuine. A mixture of pained silences and restrained outpourings, undercut by the fact they still love each other.

Marisa Tomei is also great as the next woman Bukowski hooks up with. As in THE WRESTLER, she's very likeable as the "tart with a heart". In fact, when it comes to the female characters FACTOTUM comfortably beats BARFLY.

The problem most fans will find with the movie is that it isn't written by Bukowski. But we're not going to get another BARFLY, so it's worth tempering your hopes. There are clear additions that Bukowski didn't write in any work, but they're neatly written and fit the Chinaski character well. I think real credit should be given to Jim Stark (the producer of a bunch of great Jarmusch movies) and Bent Hamer for achieving that.

In fact, this can be seen as much as a Bent Hamer movie as a Bukowski one. And your willingness to go along with that will depend on your enjoyment of the film. This is Bent Hamer's only English language film to date, but he carries over much of the style you can see in his Scandanavian movies KITCHEN STORIES, HOME FOR CHRISTMAS and O'HORTEN. There are lots of lingering shots and quiet scenes, with dialogue coming in short, sparse sentences.

Like BARFLY, the movie ends with Bukowski being acknowledged as a writer. I suppose that's a little Hollywood flourish for audiences to prove to mass audiences that the guy is a good writer. But I still remember the movie getting lousy reviews from the mainstream press, saying it celebrates the life of a self-indulgant bum. And, of course, if you don't like Bukowski you won't like this movie.

But if you are a fan, cut FACTOTUM a little slack. It should gradually grow on you... hell, I think it's a very good movie. Kudos also for finishing with a beautiful, heartfelt speech from Hank. I won't ruin it by typing it here, but it's a classic piece of Bukowski wisdom. So while FACTOTUM isn't an exact replica a very fine book, it is - at the very least - a respectful one.

Review by Steve Hussy