Ask The Dust Review

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In the 1930s, penniless Arturo Bandini (Farrell) lodges in LA and tries to become an author, worrying that he’s too inexperienced to have anything to write about. He has a complex relationship with Camilla (Hayek), a Mexican waitress, which eventually ins


John Fante, a major ‘little-known’ author, produced autobiographical novels about his early struggles which have inspired a select cadre of admirers. Among the most committed of these is writer-director Robert Towne, who’s been trying to get Fante’s Ask The Dust made for years.

The upshot is a careful, deliberately old-fashioned picture which has many admirable qualities. Filmed in South Africa, it creates a distinctive vision of ’30s LA that doesn’t overlap too much with Towne’s Fante-influenced script for Chinatown. It fills a hillside hotel with deadbeats and eccentrics (including Donald Sutherland) and springs several surprising forces of nature, from unexpectedly heavy waves that turn a nude midnight swim into a near-death experience, to an earthquake that tears up a pavement.

There’s a startling supporting turn from Idina Menzel (remember this name) as a character so unusual the film comes to life when she barges in and finds it hard to keep it together after she’s gone. In contrast, Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek (who both look much too healthy and gym-toned) play characters who are frustratingly hard to care about. Their affair dawdles in squabbles for an hour, before finally coming into focus in intimate scenes which come too late to be really affecting.

A curiously resistable drama, despite several strong elements — the most notable being newcomer Idina Menzel.