A man on a bender may skulk from bar stool to alleyway to strip joint, staring into a whiskey glass as he spews a rant of self-justification, but to him that’s not decadence; it’s adventure — a reason for living. That was certainly the way that Charles Bukowski saw it. The celebrated Los Angeles author, who fashioned himself an American bohemian Dostoyevsky, may have lived on skid row and worked day jobs he couldn’t have had more contempt for, but he drank hard, fought hard, screwed hard, and wrote hard — sometimes all night long. He poured more energy into being a bum than a lot of people do into ”honest” middle-class lives.
Playing Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, in Factotum, which is based on Bukowski’s 1975 novel, Matt Dillon gets a few crucial things right, notably the author’s brusque, lord-of-the-streets grace, his way of uttering harsh thoughts in soft tones, as if he didn’t expect to be listened to. Dillon’s unsullied youthfulness takes getting used to — his face, still so free of worry lines; his movie-star hair — but he summons a rusted nobility that’s right for Bukowski. It’s too bad that the film was directed by the Norwegian minimalist Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories), who makes a fetish of building scenes around silence. As Chinaski’s derelict muse, Lili Taylor calls up the poetry of desire, but this is the sort of movie in which nothing happens — in the worst sense. We get bits of Bukowski’s thoughts in voice-over, but why bother with the cliché flaccid diary approach when what we want to see is Matt Dillon saying these things, giving them to the audience?