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.
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Directed by Fernando Eimbcke. Warner Independent Pictures. R.
Ask the Dust
Directed by Robert Towne. Paramount Classics. R.