Henry Chinaski wants to be a writer, but he wants to be a drinker and a gambler, too, maybe even more than he wants to be a writer. He does not want to have a regular job unless it’s something mindless that won’t interfere with his primary vocations. For example, he works at a pickle factory for a while, inspecting pickles.
Henry is the central character in “Factotum” and is also the alter ego of Charles Bukowski, who wrote the book the film is based on. Matt Dillon plays him here, gruff, comical, drunk and seldom giving two craps what anyone else, including his various employers, thinks. He’s the sort of self-destructive wreck of a man that you watch with both amusement and concern.
The plot is minimal, following Henry from job to job (a factotum is a sort of jack-of-all-trades) and from woman to woman, including fellow alcoholic Jan (Lili Taylor) and a rich man’s mistress (Marisa Tomei). His relationships with them are based on alcohol and sex, usually conducted out of the flimsy, smoky hotel room he rents in the grimy unnamed city the film is set in.
The director is, of all things, Norwegian. Bent Hamer is his name. He vividly captures the anonymity of Anycity, U.S.A., and gives us many shots of doors and windows — suggesting Henry’s inability to progress to the next “room” of his life, maybe? Maybe.
As a character, Henry is more interesting to write about than he was to watch. The film is caustically funny, though, often in a vulgar way, and rather enjoyable in its life-of-a-starving-artist miserableness. There are many would-be writers who will find something of a hero in Henry, I’m sure, just as many have idolized Bukowski. More power to ’em, I say.
B- (1 hr., 33 min.; )