Bukowski, who died in 1994, was a rough, razor-sharp chronicler of the bum's life, a poet of cheap booze and sex and a master of the pared-down literary style that had its seed in Ernest Hemingway and John Fante ("Ask the Dust"). Bukowski's stories were like peepholes and his sentences were like bludgeons. He may have been the least gentlemanly of famous American authors.
The title "Factotum," as defined onscreen, refers to "a man who performs many jobs." And that's what we see Bukowski's literary alter ego Henry ("Hank") Chinaski doing here: floating from job to job, binge to binge. Hank's jack-of-all-trades status springs less from versatility than laziness and a don't-give-a-damn attitude. He has little interest in his many jobs--which he fouls up and loses with regularity, preferring the pleasures of booze, sex and literature to the chains of the workaday world.
"Hank" was Bukowski's real-life nickname. And "Factotum" shows Bukowski and his world--that seedy, drunk-in-the-daylight L.A. milieu he lived so fully and shows so well--with a conviction that Barbet Schroeder's 1987 "Barfly" and other Bukowski movies all, to some degree, lack. Hamer made the haunting "Kitchen Stories" (2003), a fact-based tale of rural alienation that was both convincing and bizarre. He sinks us in this American milieu with the same effectiveness. The movie's cast is headed by Dillon as Hank and Taylor as Jan, Hank's lover. Along with Hamer, they seem perfectly matched to the material--and it's material that some actors might not have wanted to touch. Watching Dillon and Taylor play this seedy pair, an egotistical boozer-writer who can't keep a job and a floozy who can't get enough of him, you want to applaud them both for their acting skills and their lack of the usual actor's vanity.
Dillon's surly good looks fit this character well. When he blows up at a job supervisor or fellow souse, he makes his scenes cutting and real. So does Taylor in her scenes as Jan, a drunk's dream-woman. She avoids all sentimentality and obvious sympathy-grabbing, but she moved me anyway.
The story is simple. Hank screws up at work, makes bets at the track and has sex and fights with Jan and a few other women--including Marisa Tomei as Laura, the doxy of a rich Frenchman named Pierre (Didier Flamand). All the while, he nourishes his dream of being a writer, sending off stories to the Black Sparrow Press, Bukowski's eventual publishers. The outline is reminiscent of Robert Towne's beautiful film of "Ask the Dust" by Fante (Bukowski's literary idol), but without the lyricism or poetry.
Hamer is one of those understated, keen-eyed moviemakers with a taste for life's fringes, meanness and absurdity, who often flourish in Germany or Scandinavia. Here, working with producer/co-writer Jim Stark, an old associate of Jim Jarmusch's on "Stranger than Paradise" and other films, Hamer illuminates Bukowski's dark, sleazy little corner. He makes us feel with Hank and, surprisingly, at times, feel for him.