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Something is missing, though. The themes are all there, but the movie doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier and rev you up. In turning Ask the Dust into a more conventional romance, Towne has muddled the triangular relationship of Bandini, Camilla, and the bartender Bill (Justin Kirk); Camilla’s passion for the non-hyphenated American barely comes through. And while Farrell is delightful—he has never evinced this kind of low-key, rakish charm—he’s not hungry, the way Tom Cruise might have been. (Cruise co-produced the film for Towne, who’s sort of his house screenwriter.) The arc of the story—Camilla’s comings and fleeings, the arrival from nowhere of a feverishly smitten Jewish woman, Vera (Idina Menzel)—is very perplexing. Ask the Dust only snaps into focus when Towne leaves Fante’s book and . . . Well, I won’t give it away. I’ll just say that in period love stories, there’s no such thing as an inconsequential cough.

Duck Season
Directed by Fernando Eimbcke. Warner Independent Pictures. R.

Ask the Dust
Directed by Robert Towne. Paramount Classics. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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