Still, the film has its charms. The attention to details like clothing and props is laudable, and the visuals are lush and vivid. The sets, while a little stagy for modern audiences, are also scrupulously decorated.
And then there are the bountiful natural beauties on display. Our own Western Cape (standing in for Southern California) is upstaged only by Ms Hayek herself, who cavorts completely naked on a moonlit beach about thirty minutes into proceedings. The fact that the movie’s uneven structure makes the scene seem gratuitous doesn’t make it any less memorable. When it gets to DVD this is, sadly, the scene the film will be rented for most often.
Less visually attractive but no less delightful, Donald Sutherland steals every scene he’s in as a red-nosed dissolute named Hellfrick. His understated solidity is so magnetic compared to the rest of the cast that you begin to wish the filmmakers would forget Colin Farrell and follow him around instead.
As for the themes for which the novel is so famous – racism, economic depression, the struggle to write, Los Angeles – none of them are really done much justice by the film. Perhaps this is because Fante’s dreamy, self-absorbed prose is impossible to capture accurately on film without seeming overheated and silly. More likely though, Towne simply lacks the deft touch to steer the path between drama and melodrama.
Ask The Dust is a conundrum. Only fans of the book will really be able to appreciate the film’s quirks, but those same fans will be deeply disappointed by how badly the classic has been mangled. As for the rest of us, we can only look on in confusion, sensing something great lurking just below the surface, but unable to reach it.
- Alistair Fairweather
It's got passion, ambition, intelligence and even Salma Hayek naked, but Ask the Dust just doesn't work.
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