Directed by: Bent Hamer (no, really)
Starring: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei
Based on a story by famous slacker author Charles Bukowski, this covers the life of Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon), an alter-ego for the author. Chinaski has a life with no life – full of tiny moments and crushing disappointments, mostly endured through alcohol and fucking. This makes it an ideal movie for the more patient student dropouts. Chinaski drifts aimlessly from one job to the next, generally ending up in a bar before the end of the working day, getting fired, and scraping enough cash together for more drinking and screwing. The women in his life have similar objectives. What he wants to do is spend all the time he can writing, and he manages to do this prolifically in the dirty dives he holes up in.
It would be easy to hate this movie. It moves at a snail’s pace. The pace of a dead snail. And the characters at first seem unsympathetic and deadbeat – which they are – but there’s just enough humour and approachable acting to make it work. From the opening scene, where Chinaski abandons a half-open ice-truck to stop off and get drunk – to some inexplicable dwarf-swinging (yes, Chinaski/Dillon swings a dwarf around; I’m still not sure why…) it has a great sense of the absurd. Dillon helps us to understand the humanity of a man who just wants to write, and watch life without being a big part of it. He is self-pitying but dares us to feel sorry for him. As a writer, he has more than enough pity for himself. He knows it’s self-inflicted, and knows he doesn’t care. And Matt Dillon is very good in this, playing the run-down Chinaski with only the right amount of ego.
Despite these strengths, that tend to appeal to critics, it’s not a film worth watching more than once. It does require paying some attention as static camera movement often buries the minute plot developments. This European style really suits this film, as there is little plot movement either. I think it works well as a report from the underbelly of a writer’s LA. The decision of whether it was worthwhile remains in your hands. Is Chinaski/Bukowski noble, or just a dropout drunk? Do we need a report from the smoky-bar side of life? Is this what LA really is? To know more, it’s probably time I looked up Bukowski’s work-with-the-very-long-titles (all his short story titles are mini-essays), but it has interested me in reading more from this professional slacker.
In short, he slacks for us all.