June 16, 2006
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald
Translating a drunk who does little to the screen is tough.
Bent Hamer's adaptation of Bukowski's 1975 novel Factotum, starring Matt Dillon as the author's alter-ego Henry "Hank" Chinaski, with Lili Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol) and Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) as his alcoholic muses, is one of the better attempts at putting the drunken bard on screen.
Tales Of Ordinary Madness in 1981 was the first and, for many, the best, with Ben Gazzara as a slow, cool, yet still ugly and a little unlikeable anti-hero.
It was followed in 1987 by Barfly, the best known and the one screenplay Bukowski wrote. It featured a mumblingly over-acting Mickey Rourke opposite Faye Dunaway. Bukowski wrote Hollywood about the underwhelming result.
That same year, the one Bukowski film the writer liked was released. The Belgian production Crazy Love, based on his books The Copulating Mermaid of Venice, California, and Ham on Rye, concentrated more on his socially awkward and acne-ridden adolescence.
Last year the critically acclaimed documentary Born into This was released here. It used rare and revealing footage of the famous wino, as well as interviews with Tom Waits, Bono, Sean Penn and some people without yachts. Another Bukowski adaptation, Bring Me Your Love, has recently finished filming.
Factotum sticks to the Bukowski formula: "Went to the bar at the track and got loaded, met this ugly, drunken piece of ass, after we f---ed I felt sick, so I went to the bar at the track ... [etc]"
However, as with Born Into This, Factotum has voice-overs of Bukowski's poems that give some insight into his life as a search for a kind of purity. And that is what appeals to Bukowski's fans.
In common with Gazzara, Dillon is a more believable, blackly comic Hank. Rourke was more caricature yob. Factotum captures the way Bukowski used art to laugh at the absurd meaningless of life, like a drunken lama, without over-idealising or pulling punches.
Director Bent Hamer. Stars Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor. Rated M. Screening now.