Robert Towne wrote the 1974 film noir 'Chinatown', which explores the dark side of Los Angeles. While researching he came across John Fante and his semi-autobiographical novel 'Ask the Dust' and for the last three decades has had this adaptation on the back burner.

Set in the 1930s, Italian-American writer Arturo Bandini (Farrell) is living hand to mouth in Los Angeles and searching for inspiration for his novel and a blonde American girl to marry.

Having published just one short story in a literary journal, and with all the earnings spent, he is far from the dreams of literary and romantic success he imagined when he arrived three months before.

Losing heart, and with his insecurity and anger mounting, he is at a low point when he meets fiery Mexican waitress Camilla Lopez (Hayek), who is also looking to elevate her social status.

Depression-era LA was a racist place with prejudice against Mexicans everywhere, though Camilla and Bandini don't make it easier for each other: she calls him "dago"; he calls her "spic". Bandini despises Camilla's efforts to win US citizenship and her desire to assimilate herself into LA society, though this is because he is trying to do the same thing and hates himself for it.

Unwillingly, they start to fall for each other and we follow their complicated, passionate love story which at least gives Bandini something to write about. There is a real chemistry between them and Farrell pulls off the self-absorbed, narcissistic Bandini and Hayek is well cast as the free-spirited, sensual Camilla. Though it's a pity there was not more of Bandini's begging alcoholic neighbour Hellfrick (Donald Sutherland).

Robert Towne has also written, amongst others, the first two 'Mission: Impossibles', 'Days of Thunder' and 'The Firm' - all of which starred Tom Cruise, who pops up as a producer on this film - and he is still one of Hollywood's most in demand screenwriters. In this case he sticks quite closely to the slow moving novel, though he ramps up the romance level, which does not quite ring quite true.

Filmed on set in Cape Town, a realistic Bunker Hill district in LA is conjured up and combined with the attractive voiceover which sprouts evocative descriptions. It's definitely worth a look. However, be warned: it's a slow burner and the hate-love relationship is often hard to swallow.

Mary McCarthy