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Matt Dillon gets gritty--and drinks a lot--in director Bent Hamer's interesting but uneven adaptation of Charles Bukowski's acclaimed novel.


Henry ''Hank'' Chinaski (Matt Dillon) likes to drink. He also likes to smoke, have sex, and write. What he doesn't really like is working--at least, not enough to hold down a job for very long. Factotum follows Chinaski as he meanders through a series of sleazy bars, meaningless gigs, and mutually destructive relationships, all of which provide fodder for the short stories and other musings he can't stop scribbling down. Adapted from Charles Bukowski's novel of the same name (which is widely considered to be somewhat autobiographical), the film mixes Chinaski's philosophical observations about modern society with scenes from his life as a human tumbleweed, blowing from place to place and job to job without too many cares beyond where his next drink is coming from.


Dillon's career has had its share of highs (The Outsiders, There's Something About Mary, Crash) and lows (One Night at McCool's--'nuff said). Factotum falls firmly in the former category. The actor fully inhabits his character, using his hooded gaze and wry smile to add nuances to Chinaski's matter-of-fact approach to life. Dillon makes you believe that despite his many setbacks and personal demons, Chinaski will continue to roll with the punches that life sends his way, taking it all in stride in his own slump-shouldered way. The only other character to get significant screen time is Chinaski's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jan (Lili Taylor), who shares his proclivity for booze and habitual squalor. The two bring out the worst in each other, but they're also kindred spirits, a tension that Dillon and Taylor make the most of in their scenes together.


Factotum marks Norwegian director Bent Hamer's English-language feature debut, and he shows a strong instinct for capturing Bukowski's take on the dreary, everyday underbelly of American life. From the constantly billowing clouds of cigarette smoke to the dismal, dank apartments Chinaski and Jan tend to inhabit, this is the kind of movie that should make just about anyone who sees it feel better about their own life. But despite the film's gritty realism, strong cast, and moments of dark humor, it never quite succeeds in making Chinaski a fully empathetic character. He seems like a lost cause from the beginning, and he never really changes, accepting his lot in life without too much fuss. His successes never stick, and his failures never quite bring him to his knees ... as long as he has a couple of bucks to spend in the corner bar.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.