I found “Ashby” to be a rare modern, secular movie that treats the Catholic faith more-or-less with respect.
One of the protagonists is an apparently devout if not particularly well instructed Catholic. He is not shown going to Mass, and is rather crude in his speech. What he did for a living (he is now retired) is at least morally ambiguous, but he did it with a clear conscience, thinking that it was authorized by the government for legitimate reasons. But when he realizes that one of his “jobs” was motivated not by national security concerns, but by profit, and knowing that he has a limited time in which to live, he becomes burdened by guilt. He seeks out the advice of a priest, tries to make amends, and in the end, seeks absolution for his sins.
The idea of needing absolution and seeking it out is not ridiculed or belittled. Rather it’s portrayed as a common human need: the need to hold oneself accountable, admit one’s faults, make amends to the extent possible, and live according to the dictates of conscience.
I like that the Catholic church they chose for a couple of the scenes was one with traditional architecture: steeple, gothic arches, stained glass with representational images. It seems like they always use this type of church architecture in movie portrayals of the faith. It wouldn’t have had the same effect had they filmed those scenes in a modern, gymnasium-like parish church. If the artistic types who make movies realize the importance of traditional Catholic architecture in evoking the appropriate mood for scenes of prayer and celebration of the sacraments, why can’t pastors and bishops?
I don’t mean to imply that this is a Catholic film, made by devout Catholics or intending to promote Catholicism. It doesn’t give that vibe at all. It has every appearance of having been made by filmmakers with secular attitudes. But at least it doesn’t go out of its way to denigrate the faith, and is not oblivious to the human needs that are fulfilled by it.
Another refreshing thing about the movie is its treatment of the theme of of courage and manhood. The older protagonist admonishes the younger for his cowardice in failing to stand up for a girl, in a situation in which she was treated disrespectfully by a boy. At first the younger guy chides the elder for his “1950s attitude” towards violence and manhood, implying that modern young men are more sensible and enlightened. But ultimately he admits that he acted like a coward and resolves not to do it again.
The movie has its flaws. The absolution scene near the end is frankly rather lame, and shows the shallowness of the producers’ grasp of Catholic morality, not to mention the importance of the proper form of a sacrament. Some of the plot elements seem disproportionate to each other, almost as if they were confused about what kind of a movie they were making. But I thought it was very nicely photographed, and pretty well acted, had fairly good dialogue and a few laughs. Not an excellent movie but enjoyable if you’re not expecting too much.