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3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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by Scott Weinberg

"The crowning achievement of Matt Dillon's career. (So far, anyway.)"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Why not take a minute and give it up for Matt Dillon? He's one of those actors that's just kinda "always there," never taking five years off for rehab or ruining his career with a string of direct-to-video junkpiles. From "Little Darlings," "My Bodyguard," and "The Outsiders" to "Drugstore Cowboy," "Singles," and "Beautiful Girls" to "There's Something About Mary," "Wild Things," and "To Die For" -- the guy always delivers a strong, committed performance, and yet he never seem to get any of the credit when these movies hit it big or earn a bunch of fans. That might change this year, as his performance in "Crash" is gaining some Oscar buzz. And based on what I've seen in "Factotum," Mr. Dillon is in no real hurry to lay off the difficult roles.

Inspired by several stories by (and let's just say the life of) celebrated author Charles Bukowski, Bent Hamer's Factotum is a textbook definition "character study," and it's one of the best I've seen in quite some time. The word "factotum," which I was unfamiliar with until a few weeks ago, means "man of many jobs," a description which certainly fits Henry Chinaski to a tee.

An aimless Minnesotan, Henry Chinaski wanders through a variety of semi-professions, from ice-chopper to bike-builder to stockroom stooge, and it never seems to take more than a few weeks before Hank quits, gets fired, or just refuses to show up. There are two places that Henry can be found with any consistency: a bar or a seedy hotel room, which is where he spends his nights scrawling semi-autobiographical tales onto a legal pad.

Henry has the drive and ambition required to drop a few manuscripts into the nearest mailbox -- but only if said mailbox is located near a dingy watering hole. Aside from his writing prowess, Henry seems to have two other skills: he's a great bet at the horse track, and he really knows how to woo those desperate, fading, female barflies.

Plot-wise, that's pretty much it. But you don't go into a candid and well-crafted character piece expecting the plot threads of a Lord of the Rings sequel. Factotum is content to be "about" little more than this one solitary man, his gradual dismissal of professional conventions, and the few stories he's able to write in between drinking binges and sweaty sex sessions.

Also populating Chinaski's realm are a variety of semi-slovenly spirits. Lili Taylor delivers a wonderfully commanding performance as Henry's "main" squeeze, while Marisa Tomei shows up late in the game and offers some of her best work in years. Character actor Fisher Stevens adds some color during one small section, and veteran French actor Didier Flamand pops in as one of the film's most intriguing side characters.

In the lead role, Matt Dillon is simply fantastic. He might very well earn himself a supporting nod for Crash, but his work in Factotum is absolutely sterling. If an actor as well-established as Matt Dillon could still offer something called a "revelation," than this performance is it. Dillon's Chinaski is a low-rent, subtly sleazy, and poverty-afflicted booze-hound, but in the actor's hands this character also comes off as quietly noble, strangely endearing, and somehow infused with an old-fashioned class. Imagine George Clooney combined with a very drunk (and unshowered) Humphrey Bogart, and that's pretty much what Henry Chinaski reminded me of.

I'd gladly say that Factotum is worth seeing for Dillon's performance alone -- but the flick's got a whole lot more to offer than that.

Since "Factotum" is based on a variety of Bukowski pieces, it's a somewhat episodic affair, but this is not a movie as concerned with delivering an A to B to C plot narrative as it is in giving you a glimpse at one guy's travels through numerous levels of desperation, passion, and unbridled creativity.

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originally posted: 01/30/06 15:51:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2006 Portland Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2006 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/05/07 William Goss Cast is good, Dillon is great, but lax pace threatens to take its toll at any moment. 4 stars
7/12/06 Alijah Moshe 5 stars
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  18-Aug-2006 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2006



Directed by
  Bent Hamer

Written by
  Bent Hamer
  Jim Stark

  Matt Dillon
  Lili Taylor
  Fisher Stevens
  Marisa Tomei
  Didier Flamand
  Adrienne Shelly

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