Set in 1930s Los Angeles (lovingly created by writer/director Robert Towne), Ask the Dust starts out very strong. The strength lies in the slow pace that gives the characters the chance to interact and develop. Maybe there is still a little shorthand involved, but we have enough time to learn to see past the “hot blooded Mexican princess” (Salma Hayek) that our aspiring, starving, Italian-American writer (Colin Farrell) falls in love with.
R for some sexuality, nudity and language
The movie comes across as a pulpy, hard-boiled, ironic tale. Bandini, the writer, talks in voiceover with the icy patter that 1940s gumshoes will eventually adopt. From this, along with the amazing moody look of the film, I expected something complex, intriguing, and hard-hitting. I expected something grand and epic.
Instead, the movie is about two simple, conventional ideas: love and acceptance. Initially I faulted the film for failing to deliver on what I thought were promises about the ending. But having since read the book by John Fante (written contemporarily and later rediscovered by Charles Bukowski), I see that the movie is faithful to the angry, conflicted tone of the source.