Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Written and directed by Robert Towne from the novel by John Fante, you’d never know from watching this film that the source material was one of Charles Bukowski’s primary influences. Set in Depression-era Los Angeles, Fante’s novel is a story of desperate, marginal figures and the wounds they inflict on each other while Towne’s film scrubs all the rough edges clean. A long-time dream project, I get the feeling the script went through a few too many rewrites.
The movie is at times too reverent and not reverent enough. The first three quarters of the film follow the novel pretty closely, but the two leads — Colin Farrell as a first-generation Italian transplant from Colorado and emerging writer, Salma Hayek as the Mexican waitress he falls in love with — never generate much heat or tension as Towne dutifully puts them through their paces. In the last quarter of the film, Towne alters the story considerably for the worse by turning it into a conventional tale of racism and immigrant aspirations, whereas the novel was more ambiguous and existential.
Farrell is terribly miscast. In the novel, the character is an unattractive, guilt-ridden Catholic boy who’s a loser with women. Hey, did the Farrell sex tape — y’know, the one where he bangs a Playboy model — come out before or after this film? The role calls for a young Steve Buscemi or Paul Giamatti type. (Maybe the financing was contingent on Farrell?) Meanwhile, Hayek is asked to play a “fiery,” poor, illiterate, pot-smokin’, TB-infected, victimized Latina who, gee, just wants some nice fella to marry her. You do get to see her boobs a couple times, though, so it’s a not a total loss. Caleb Deschanel’s photography is classy and kudos to the production team for turning South Africa into a believable stand-in for 30s Los Angeles, even though there were a couple shots of some heavily wooded areas that were a bit jarring.