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Ask the Dust

Screenwriter Robert Towne has spent decades trying to adapt for the big screen John Fante's 1939 novel about a struggling writer named Arturo Bandini, and Towne's affection for the material and its maker is plainly evident here. He is faithful to the novel to a point, but also more forgiving toward Arturo (Colin Farrell) than even Fante was. Hence he is no longer a lumbering virgin or a petulant ruffian prone to throwing tantrums, but a movie-star-handsome, desperately sensitive artist trapped in a dusty place populated by mongrels who do not appreciate his estimable talents. Towne has imprinted himself upon the material to such an extent that Fante almost exists in the margins. That's clear especially in his treatment of the relationship between Arturo and a waitress named Camilla Lopez (Salma Hayek), who treats the writer with contempt. Farrell's performance possesses a touch too many mannerisms on loan from Tyrone Power and Clark Gable. Ask the Dust, sadly, is the work of a man making less out of more.

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