Eye For Film >> Movies >> Factotum (2005) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Factotum is a film which comes with many subtitles attached to its various releases, among them A Man Who Performs Many Jobs. It is never clear whether this is some sort of joke or just a careless translation, which sums up much of the film itself. Although there's some sharp observation and the occasional witty line, it never quite captures the edginess of Charles Bukowski's original work, and so finds the balance between ugliness and humour difficult to maintain. Nevertheless, it's an affecting portrait of the flip side of the American dream.
This is the story of Hank (Matt Dillon), a man who drifts between casual jobs, homes and relationships whilst pursuing an increasing dedication to drink. Hank identifies himself as a writer, furiously producing short stories, convinced that one day his big break will come and he'll be saved, almost deus ex machina, from a life where nothing ever seems to change except for the worse.
Dillon has previously touched upon this life in Drugstore Cowboy, though Factotum makes Van Sant's work look glamourous; here he clearly wants to do something different with his role, affording the character little sympathy, though he does have a certain (gradually declining) vigour and charm which make his small successes believable. Audience sympathy for Hank is apt to waver, as he is clearly an agent in his own destruction, though he makes a solid case for drink being one of the few pleasures available to him.
For the most part, director Bent Hamer takes an amoral stance, simply watching events unfold; if the film has a moral message, it appears only at the end, in what may be cinema's best ever strip club sequence. Studios are always offering extra finance in return for such scenes, which allegedly draw in extra viewers, but Hamer turns the whole thing on its head, showing us a skilled, athletic woman reduced, like our hero, to a life of squalor. Throughout the film, the only people who escape life in the underclass are those who are successful in selling themselves to the rich.
This may sound a bleak prospect for an hour and half's viewing, and, much of the way through, it is. It begins slowly, awkwardly, and is difficult to get into, the hero's emotional distance threatening to disengage the viewer. What saves it is a strong underlying current of humour and a remarkable talent for observation. Some of the cinematography is superb. The sets are detailed and thoughtfully constructed, with nothing ever seeming false - clearly the whole design team have a solid understanding of the sort of world which Hank inhabits. Dillon and co-stars Lili Taylor and Fisher Stevens seems similarly at home, and their physical acting is impressive. Despite occasional outbursts and speech-making, the performances are never inappropriately showy.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Dillon's narration, the worst since Blade Runner, which is poorly delivered and crudely overlaid, interrupting several key scenes. This comes across as the product of further uncertainty in translating the novel - perhaps some of it is necessary, impossible to work around, but it's hard to believe it could not have been done better.
Factotum is a deeply flawed film, but an interesting one, a bold stab at addressing subjects usually hidden away. In this regard some viewers will find it very satisfying, but it's unlikely to please a wide audience.Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2009
If you like this, try:Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas