While I knew Mass would be emotional, one of the reasons I wanted to see it was the cast. I knew the cast was exceptional, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney, and was really intrigued with what such a cast would do with a film of this emotional weight. The cast was exactly what I expected, skilled, emotional, and powerful. And while the story was intense and heartbreaking, the skill of the performances was incredible.
Written and directed by Fran Kranz in his directorial debut, Mass is about the parents, Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), of a victim of a school shooting with the parents of the perpetrator, Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd), years after the event, to bring some healing to both sets of parents. While the parents struggle with their emotions and talking with each other, they eventually are able to share with each other and deal with the complexities of the situation.
One of the highlights of the film is the rawness of the dialogue and the emotions. The set is stripped down, set in an Episcopalian church, in a small meeting room. With such a stark setting, the film focuses on the dialogue, the interactions between the characters, and their discussion. It is intense and emotional, the way the dialogue allows each set of parents to delve into their feelings. We get shown both the desperate pain of Jay and Gail over their loss, their anger over losing their son Evan, their desire to blame Richard and Linda for not preventing the actions of their son. But we also see the weight of guilt and isolation Linda and Richard feel, their grief over their son’s actions, the desire to change events. We are allowed to understand the pain of both parents without bias, understanding that there is pain on both sides, no matter who is at fault. Without the expressiveness of the dialogue, the way it conveys the emotions of both sets of parents, we might only see one side and that is what makes the writing so brilliant.
The other aspects of the film that truly shine are the performances. The way each performer delves into the raw and painful emotions is the reason this film is so powerful. There really is not one performance that is better than the other. Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton are incredible as Jay and Gail, conveying such deep pain and grief, their performances authentic and profound. Ann Dowd as Linda is incredibly emotive and empathetic, her performance rich and intense while Reed Birney as Richard conveys shame and guilt over his oversights. Both of them allow us to experience the point of view of parents who’ve not only lost their child but also are blamed for his actions. The skill of all the actors in embodying their characters is amazing and without comparison.
While the film does an excellent job of exploring the raw emotions of the scenario, the film begins slowly, with the church meeting room set up by a facilitator Kendra (Michelle N. Carter), and the staff of the church, Judy (Breeda Wool). While that setup is necessary to enable us to understand the situation, the film does move slowly with the introduction. It takes time for the emotions to be explored. While this is necessary to not overload the audience with the intensity of the pain and heartbreak of the individuals, it does make it more difficult to connect with the story at first. Once the discussion begins, that changes and the power of the performances prevents you from looking away.
If you like films that will make you look at school shootings in a new way, or like the actors involved, you might enjoy this film. While it was difficult to watch, due to the subject matter, the intensity of the emotions and the power of the performances helped me to respect the writing, the viewpoints, and feel for each set of parents. While there are films we watch for enjoyment, this is one to watch to learn, to empathize, and to gain a new perspective. The performances and the actors shine above all else. It is traumatic but it is real in ways few films are.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Years after an unspeakable tragedy tore their lives apart, two sets of parents (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) agree to talk privately in an attempt to move forward. In Fran Kranz’s writing and directing debut, he thoughtfully examines their journey of grief, anger and acceptance by coming face-to-face with the ones who have been left behind. MASS is currently playing in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles and will open in theaters nationwide on Friday, October 15, 2021.
ONE-LINER: Aftermath of a violent tragedy that affects the lives of two couples in different ways.