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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ask the Dust Review

Ask the Dust
Directed by: Robert Towne
Screenplay by: Robert Towne based on the John Fante novel
Starring: Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland
Rated R- 117 minutes

Robert Towne is best known for writing CHINATOWN. In that film he won the Oscar, the Bafta, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Golden Globe, and the Writers Guild Award and was pretty much crowned the best, most promising sceren-writer in America.

Since that time, Towne has written the screenplays for Mission Impossible I and II, The Firm, Days of Thunder, 8 Million Ways to Die and forayed into directing with Tequila Sunrise and Without Limits. Ask the Dust is very much a return to what he knows best and what he did best in Chinatown. It's a noir, slow-moving film that takes place in Los Angeles in the Depression.
The film is based on the book by John Fante, who was also a screenwriter in the 1950's and 1960's before his death in 1983.

Fante's most famous films include the Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyk film WALK ON THE WILD SIDE and the Judy Holiday comedy FULL OF LIFE.

Ask the Dust is very much an indulgent piece. It's about a writer named Arturo Bandini (very much John Fante writing about himself) directed by in the film version by another writer- Robert Towne. Therefore, it's no wonder that there is very little action that takes place in the film, instead, it is the subtle nuances and dialogues and neurotic schisms that take up much of the film's 2 hour runtime.

The story in Ask the Dust follows Arturo Bandini, the Italian-American struggling writer who arrives to 1930's Los Angeles with a dream and a suitcase full of copies of his only ever published work from the East Coast. He moves into a hotel, struggles with his writing and can hardly afford a cup of coffee, let alone a glass of beer. He's down to his last nickel, and he meets the fiery Mexican waitress named Camilla (Salma Hayek). Bandini and Camilla are like cat and mouse. Camilla taunts Bandini for being poor and mean and Bandini responds by insulting her for being Mexican and illiterate. The mutual hatred and love ensues, but it does so slowly and allows for much more to develop in the film before it pays off.

Ultimately, the story unfolds and does so in a worthwhile manner. Perhaps the ending is cliche' and lackluster, especially for what came before it, but such is usually the case when transferring a book from page to screen.

Ask the Dust is a worthwhile film to see if you have a sufficient attention span to sit through countless minutes of redundant dialogue and masturbatory writer-centric conversations which the average person could never relate to unless they too have suffered from writer's block.
The performances by Farrell and Hayek are good. Farrell manages to muster up a near perfect imitation of a 40's American screen actor accent. The only problem with this is that it is obviously an imitation from the second his words leave his mouth. Hayek, who manages to keep her Mexican accent intact is beautiful and breath-taking, but also fittingly bi-polar in this role.
Towne's direction and Caleb Deschanel's cinematography are good, but in an era of MTV fast-edits and jiggly-cameras. There's something so jolting about a film that is so steadfast. In fact, in one memorable scene in the Pacific Ocean (film was shot in South Africa not in LA), a naked Colin Farrell and naked Salma Hayek take a midnight dip in the water and the camera sways back and forth so much to the point that the viewer becomes dizzy. This only could have happened in a film so -otherwise- steady and slow-paced as this.
2.5 Stars

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