Ask the Dust follows the Depression Era story of a rather average writer attempting to be a great one. Set in the new-get-rich town of failed dreams (Los Angeles), the writer is an inexperienced and virginal Colin Farrell, who gradually falls for the uncompromising immigrant waitress Salma Hayek. This is a movie which, like its hero, has great ambitions but fails pitifully in many of them, yet one which can be treasured for its moments of pure beauty and shining rapture in its laboured attempt to become a classic.
Colin Farrell's career to this point, after a spectacular rise with the gripping and slightly manic role in Phone Booth, attempted to scale heights which were out of reach (in Alexander, for instance), and then now seems to be developing more methodically with admirable performances such as The New World. In Ask the Dust his casting seems pitched just right, stretching him without making the demands which would need a more experienced actor. Salma Hayek, who is never shy about making a stand for Mexican women (and why not?) slots into her role perfectly. Unlike Farrell's character, an Italian who is nevertheless proud to be American, Hayeck fights on the back foot against the prejudice which she has encountered in real life even to this day. Her starring against Farrell's delicate writer also comes naturally. She has been quoted as saying (in one of her less political or feminist moments), "I keep waiting to meet a man who has more balls than I do," and in our story Farrell has his work cut out to dominate her in true Mexican latino fashion.
Farrell and Hayek both being considered among top cinema sex icons, it will come as no disappointment to fans of both that they get into the buff on more than one occasion. One of the best scenes in the film is where Hayek challenges him to show her how to 'ride a wave' one night by moonlight. He bluffs it manfully, not admitting it is his first time in the sea, until she plays a practical joke to pay him back for pretending to have had a heart attack in her restaurant. The colours of the ocean are shot with memorable skill as the two of them out-dare each other (even though she later teases him for being afraid to show his penis on the beach). The director cleverly avoids falling into romantic comedy by using dramatic tension and the love-hate of their unconsummated affair. When the two of them finally do have sex, the turn on is not so much Farrell's heaving buttocks or Hayeck's naked chest it is the fact that their emotions, that they have struggled with for so long, finally succeed in speaking each other's language.
Other gems include times when translation deliberately falls between the cracks. ''It's not 'grew in me' but 'grew on me','' says Farrell, corrected her stumbling attempts at English (after asking her if it was love at first sight). She however makes a careful metaphor, saying how he grew inside her like a child. Sadly such moments are all too few and far between in this two hour movie. Dedicated cinephiles, or older generation moviegoers that have patience for a slowly developing tale, will wear the more pedestrian scripting and direction that fills the large spaces in-between, but such shortcomings will deny the film wider audience appeal in spite of its stars' charisma. Any poetic message element on the race and immigration theme ( . . . happiness is that you can be in a place where you are secure, and fall in love with whoever you want to, and not feel ashamed of it) is not backed up with any clarity of thought in the script (Farrell justifies his American-ness by youth and love of his country, throwing ageism in to replace racism); and the pot-shots at marijuana (if you will excuse the pun), which Hayek uses partly, we suspect, to ease her illness, are so politically incorrect as to be laughable outside of the 'great United States'. The overall message is similar to that erronous belief of George W Bush - that people of other (especially poorer) countries, simply aspire one day to be as great and wonderful as Americans. Salma Hayek may believe this role could help fight for the recognition and equality for all peoples, but it is unlikely that many outside of modern misguided America will see it that way. Like its protagonist, we can only hope that such promise and talent can somewhere blossom into greater writing that here witnessed.
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