Factotum

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis



            If a “Factotum” is a person hired to do all kinds of work, this movie would add, “and hates every minute of every job.”  We first meet Hank Chanaski (Matt Dillon) as he is chopping ice blocks with a jackhammer.  When he drives the company truck on a round of deliveries, he parks it in front of a bar (doors carelessly left open) and drinks until his boss spots it and fires him on the spot.  And that’s just the beginning.  An intelligent man fueled by anger and nihilism, Hank’s multiple firings draw our impatience rather than our sympathy. 

            This is a man who vomits his alcohol in the parking lot on the way to a job interview; he has a record of DUIs and arrests.  He works on the assembly line of a pickle factory, as a janitor for a newspaper, as a packer in a bicycle supply warehouse, usually quitting just before he is fired.  His behavior seems deliberate. 

Hank collects his pay and heads for the nearest bar where he soon meets Jan (Lily Taylor), a natural drinker who matches his constant intake of alcohol.  They move in together; they drink; they smoke; they vomit; they split up.  Hank finds another cohort, Laura (Marisa Tomei) who is a drinker on call for an old man named Pierre.  We keep waiting for these various episodes to add up to a plot, but we should have known alcoholic fragments can add up only to zero.

            Are we looking for transformation?  No chance.  Do we wish something in one of the women or one of the jobs might trigger an energy that would blast him out of his laconic stupor?  Don’t wait for it.

            We watch him, usually with one of the two women, drinking, smoking, having sex, always with a frown.  The room is filled with empty liquor bottles, the table with half finished drinks, and the film is so well photographed that you can smell the whole mess – the alcohol and the vomit.  Hank cares so little about anything that we begin to feel he may be collecting material for what he tells us he really loves to do:  write.  There are a couple of problems with this.  First, it is hard to believe a 24 hour drunk could be coherent on the page.  And second, if you think at the last moment, that he may be scouring the underbelly of his world for a writer’s capital, you will be doubly angry that you have spent more than an hour watching his foul search.

            Matt Dillon, with good support from Lily Taylor and Marisa Tomei, does this job well.  He walks slowly and stiffly like an arthritic old man toward a slow death.  But when clinking ice cubes, unemployment, drunken sex and the attendant ugliness are the sum of what we see, our patience evaporates.  When Hank says, “It’s amazing how we hold onto our anger,” we measure our own and agree.           


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