Reviewed by: Kotleta

In reality, to be a struggling writer, starving in a garret, is about as romantic and glamorous as dying of consumption. When you use the marginally more scientific terminology of alcoholic poverty (or tuberculosis), it's suddenly less aspirational as a lifestyle.

Henry "Hank" Chinaski is a bum, a drifter and well past the first flush of idealistic youth. He works shit job after shit job, making only enough to pay for beer to drink and paper to write on. Rejection is a daily occurrence. Nobody wants to publish his stories and nobody wants to employ him for more than a few days. Luckily he looks like Matt Dillon's fatter older unwashed brother, which makes it easier to find lonely women willing to provide a bed to sleep in and a table to write on.

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The pace is languid and laid back, meandering even. Hank has nowhere in particular to go, nowhere pressing to be. The only thing he has any drive to do is write. And drink.

If this story were in different hands, he would meet a sozzled, burnt out, has-been publisher in a bar, who would recognise his genius and spread the message to the world, ending neatly with a Pulitzer Prize, AA meetings and marriage to Jennifer Aniston. But life is not like that.

No longer a prisoner of his pretty boy good looks, Dillon puts in a remarkably downbeat performance that heralds a renaissance in his career, a la John Travolta post-Tarantino. Marisa Tomei and Lili Taylor provide ample support, as the women who end up looking after him, mostly because they're afraid to be alone, and it's refreshing to see what Hollywood stars look like when they haven't been airbrushed into perfection. Every wrinkle, blemish and bruise, every traitorous little roll of fat, remains intact. The narrative is tangential and anecdotal, a linear mosaic of small failures and smaller successes, interspersed with laugh out loud one-liners.

A working knowledge of, or even interest in, the life and works of Charles Bukowski is not necessary to appreciate this film. I hesitate to use the word "enjoy", because it's not particularly enjoyable. Despite the humour, there is too much despair, too much apathy, and, above all, too much reality for it to be that. It is, however, as compulsive as a 40-a-day fag habit.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2005
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Portrait of the drinker as an artist.
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Anton Bitel ***1/2
Jennie Kermode ***1/2

Director: Bent Hamer

Writer: Bent Hamer, Jim Stark, based on the writings of Charles Bukowski

Starring: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei, Fisher Stevens, Didier Flamand, Adrienne Shelly, Karen Young, Tom Lyons, Dean Brewington, James Cada, James Michael Detmar, Kurt Schweickhardt, Dee Noah, James Noah, Michael Egan, Terry Hempleman, Emily 'Sophia Simo

Year: 2005

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Norway, US, Germany, Italy, France


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