Ask the Dust Robert Towne

Legendary Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne returns, this time to adapt fellow Angelino scribe John Fante in a similarly dark tale of the Depression in L.A. Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell) is an idealistic young writer who comes to the city to escape Colorado bigotry. Upon arrival, he’s immediately gripped by writer’s block and is soon reduced to his last nickel. That’s when he meets Mexican waitress Camilla (Salma Hayek), with whom he starts a relationship full of shouting, racial epithets and regrets. But they eventually decide they need each other, until illness creeps up on Camilla. Towne has wisely seized on the uncommon distinction of his material — not merely in its depiction of L.A. as a place where people unwittingly go to die but the cross-ethnic rivalry of its outer-caste protagonists that you seldom see in American movies. True, Towne proves better at identifying his material than shaping it; he’s rather average as a director and fails to capture the explosive rage of his agonised heroes. But he’s still alive to the sadness of Los Angeles, with its culture of dashed hopes and failed dreamers waiting for the end, including Donald Sutherland on his last legs and Idina Menzel as a desperate literary groupie. One wishes for more crackling presentation (though Caleb Deschanel pours on the cinematography) and I have the sneaking suspicion that the leads are too old for their parts, but what’s here will be sufficient to hold you, move you and send you looking for Fante’s back catalogue in search of indelible exchanges. Extras include a superb commentary with Town and Deschanel in which the cinematographer prompts the writer/director to vivid recollections, and a "better than average” "making of” featurette. (Paramount)