The biggest accomplishment of Robert Towne's adaptation of John Fante's Ask the Dust is that it will make anyone who sees it want to read the book. The film threads numerous layers of symbolism into the relationship between young Italian writer Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell) and the Mexican waitress Camilla (Salma Hayek). There are questions of race, and what it means to be an American, and what it means to be in Los Angeles (a question that Towne has addressed often in his career), and how a writer must balance his time between writing and living life in order to have experiences to write about. Towne interweaves all of these themes into the dialogue in such a way that shows intelligence and an obvious love for the source material. However, for all of the thematic resonance built up, never once do these two characters seem to exist as real people. The characters are used to ask questions and make philosophical points, but they fail to register as three-dimensional human beings. Caleb Deschanel's exquisite cinematography, and the wonderful attention to period detail in the clothes and the cars, makes for a beautiful-looking movie that finds a perfect middle ground between being a perfect recreation of depression-era Los Angeles and expressing the dreamy, romantic vision of the protagonist. Towne and company get the subtext right, but fail to bring the main characters to life. Because of this, Ask the Dust engages the mind, but fails to touch the heart.