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Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
: Bent Hamer
Starring: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Fisher Stevens, Marisa Tomei
Released by: IFC Films

In Short: Matt Dillon’s performance is intoxicating as the drunken alter-ego of writer Charles Bukowski, of "Barfly" fame.

Down and out in Minnesota
By Andrew Bender

Somewhere in the middle of “Factotum,” we had a flashback to “Animal House.” In that classic 1970s comedy, the college dean cautions one of the frat boys, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.” Hank Chinaski (Matt Dillon) may be very, very drunk, but he is neither fat nor especially not stupid, and that makes “Factotum” a heady movie.

Matt Dillion in Factotum
Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor in Factotum

A factotum is a person who performs many jobs; in Hank’s case, jobs he can manage despite his inebriation are: breaking ice in an ice factory with a jackhammer, packaging pickles, warehousing bike parts and driving a taxi (well, applying to drive a taxi). Hank can bear it because his inner motivation is elsewhere, as a writer. At its base, “Factotum” is a very American tale of living a grim existence in the service of one’s real goal.

Hank shacks up with the equally addled Jan (Lili Taylor), and together they meander through a Minnesota that Mary Tyler Moore would never have recognized. Not even Puccini could romanticize their bohemian lifestyle of SRO hotels, fixing pancakes in their underwear and testing car door handles in order to steal cigarettes from unlocked vehicles. “Factotum” was Charles Bukowski’s second novel (he also wrote the screenplay for "Barfly" and is recognized as Hank’s alter-ego), and Dillon delivers perfect deadpan musings in Bukowski’s voice to show what happens when an acute brain meets day-to-day drudgery.

Lili Taylor in Factotum
Matt Dillon and Marisa Tomei in Factotum

For a movie about a writer, “Factotum” is admirably spare in script and cinematography. Norwegian director Bent Hamer (of 2003’s acclaimed Kitchen Stories) creates artfully balanced shots filled with irony and writerly detail, such as a clock that gains 35 minutes each hour, or three men puffing away in an office in a “no smoking” building.

We disliked “Leaving Las Vegas” and other addiction movies for a reason we didn’t understand until we saw “Factotum”: in those films, the addicts were pitiful. Not that we recommend you live like Hank, but not once did he invite our pity. In fact, the experience was somehow—dare we say it?—uplifting.

(Updated 08/30/07 NJ)

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