DISCLAIMER: Mild spoilers abound for Mass.
America’s no stranger to gun violence in schools, and unfortunately, it seems to be getting exponentially worse by the year. In 2021, there have been “at least 82 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 21 deaths and 47 injuries nationally.“
While these tragedies are hotbeds of contention in the political world, we seldom examine the impact on those left in the wake of gun violence. That’s where Fran Kranz‘s Mass enters the fray.
Mass focuses on two sets of parents: Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), and Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd). Jay and Gail’s son, Evan, is the victim of a school shooting, and Richard and Linda’s son, Hayden, is the perpetrator who committed suicide after killing ten students. What transpires years after the traumatic event is a conversation in a church that forces everyone to unburden themselves, confront their feelings and move forward.
This film is Kranz’s directorial and writing debut, but you’d never know it. Mass is a testament to consistently powerful writing, solid directing and unbelievably tour de force acting, and it tackles its complex subject matter with grace and aplomb.
Mass is a rarity in that it doesn’t need to rely on “bells and whistles,” and it doesn’t need edge-of-your-seat, wall-to-wall action to arrest your attention. Kranz’s dialogue is so resonant and poignant that, coupled with top-tier performances, you’ll find yourself hanging on every word.
There’s so little staging that it could be a theatre production, but I’m not sure it should face adaptation in that manner. Part of the magic of Mass is the intimacy — connecting with these characters in an up-close and personal way. We need to feel like we’re in the room with them.
The cinematography takes a “less is more” approach, and it’s rather deliberate. Each shot is carefully curated, and it draws you deeper into the universe of these characters. Again, Kranz lets the writing and acting do the heavy lifting, making the story and themes more impactful.
This film’s greatest takeaway, for me, is that everyone is a victim. Jay and Gail are victims of losing Evan, and Richard and Linda are victims of losing Hayden in more ways than one. I appreciate that Kranz doesn’t show us the late children, even though the quartet exchanges pictures.
It preserves a sense of intimacy and agency between both sets of parents. They get to hold fast to the memories of their kids.
Additionally, in a film that primarily consists of dialogue, we don’t know the whole story of what happened until roughly halfway through. But it doesn’t have to be explicitly stated, and Kranz doesn’t underestimate the audience’s intelligence by overfeeding us exposition.
Isaacs, Plimpton, Birney and Dowd are extraordinary. Everyone invests immensely in their characters, and it shows. Even the more emotional moments heightened to the nth degree are grounded in truth and painful vulnerability. We feel everything they’re feeling. As much as you loathe Hayden for what he’s done, you sympathize with Linda and Richard.
Each performer brings something different to the table, and every character embarks on a natural evolution from start to finish. While it’s difficult to pick a standout performance, Plimpton and Dowd are magnificent, infusing their work with the gut-wrenching, complex emotions one endures after such a tragedy.
Dowd brings sensitivity and visceral emotion, and Isaacs offers steel-edged anger. Meanwhile, Plimpton imbues Gail with a brusque inquisitiveness that quickly morphs into outright pain. Lastly, Birney’s Richard’s matter-of-factness masks a torrent of hurt beneath the surface.
It all hurts, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry multiple times throughout the movie.
Mass is a vital piece of cinema that deftly grapples with grief, anger, closure, loss and forgiveness. Kranz crafts a profoundly riveting, harrowing story that embeds itself in your soul and lingers there. Bolstered by awe-inspiring performances and gut-wrenching dialogue, Mass should be required viewing.
Mass hits theaters on Friday, October 8.
This review was originally published on 9/30/21.
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