The website for Robert Towne‘s Ask the Dust (Paramount Classics, 3.10) nicely captures the film’s 1930s atmosphere and meditative mood. There’s not a great amount of advance heat coming from critics or the distributor, even, about Friday’s opening, but it’s my idea of a movie of genuine substance. Here are some excerpts from a piece I wrote after seeing it last month in Santa Barbara: “Ask the Dust is about how self-acceptance — who you really are, where you come from, what you’re feeling deep down — brings clarity and with that the noblest kind of strength, which is the ability to love. Some who see Ask the Dust may shift around in their seats a bit, but this is a film that knows what it’s doing and gets to where it’s going. It is what it damn well is. It’s meditative and sometimes talky as shit, and it feels visually claustrophobic in the middle section, but this is the kind of life that struggling writer Arturo Bandini (played very well by Colin Farrell) leads in his rented Bunker Hill room so you can’t say it’s not honest. And it pays off at the end, and you can’t say it’s not wonderfully written, and there’s a spiritual element in the water table if you settle down and let it soak in. I was in and out as I watched it, but this is the kind of film that comes together the next morning. You can say “not for me…I want the movie to pay off completely as I’m watching it” and I hear you, but movies that take a few hours to percolate are always the ones that we remember and value more because they hold up over time. Thematically it’s basically the same film as Curtis Hanson‘s 8 Mile, which was about Eminem being unable to rap with confidence or clarity until he stands up and admits he’s just this grungy white kid from a trailer park with a loser alcoholic mom. Dust is about Bandini coming to terms with his roots and how his own rage about suffering ethnic prejudice as a boy leads to treating Salma Hayek‘s Camilla disrespectfully and even cruelly in the same vein, and how accepting this helps him get past the crap and find his voice. Give up the pose and the attitude, admit who and what you really are, and you’ll be able to move on and be a man.