OCTOBER 8TH, 2021
STARRING: JASON ISAACS, MARTHA PLIMPTON, ANN DOWD, REED BIRNEY
DIRECTED BY: FRAN KRANZ
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
There’s a mountain of topics, debates, and conversations to have when it comes to Fran Kranz emotional film Mass. The premise is difficult, about two couples, one pair that has lost their son in a mass shooting, and the other couple are the parents of the perpetrator of these horrific acts. It’s a detail not revealed right away, as the room is set, the tissue box is moved around, and the tension is growing for what is about to take place in this church basement. And from there, Mass is a dialogue driven, one location film, with all four actors delivering excellent performances filled with intense monologues, mainly dissecting the immense pain they feel. Mass is a matter of two sides, internal terror and an outpouring of emotions, and although it doesn’t all work as a movie, it’s undeniable that Mass has four of the best performances of 2021.
There’s much to dissect when discussing Mass, from which of the four performances are the best, the writing, the moral quandaries of forgiveness or anger, and how it works as an overall piece. The problems that arise are not within the acting or the writing, that’s all good, but it is the little nagging unanswered questions that weigh Mass down. Such as, why did these two specific families plan to meet when other families lost their children? Why in this little church? And what was achieved by it all? The other major issue is how the film feels staged, with camera shots switching back and forth from one side to the other, each parent getting their own moment to express their feelings, and deliver their monologues. Although the writing sounds authentic and the performances carry that authenticity, there’s never a moment where Mass doesn’t feel like a movie.
The screenplay and direction is by Fran Kranz, and making Mass work starts with his correct casting of his characters. The parents of the slain child are Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), both quieter in their state of mind, but never forgetting to honor the life of their child with their time. The other couple is Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney), carrying a boulder size weight of guilt on their shoulders, and attempting to gain any sense of community in a world casting them out for the misdeeds of their unhealthy child. The communication starts small, gradually testing the water about where the conversation is going to go, an exchange of nice words, and a flower pot from Linda to Gail. They’ve corresponded with each other before this, but now they are in the same space, which is why it does not take long for the conversation to be about parenting methods, spotting the warning signs, and how both families grieve in their own separate ways.
As far as the performances go, it’s truly hard to say which one is the best. My vote would go to Isaacs, doing an excellent job of carrying his weight and thespian style approach to the role. His performance as Jay is that of a truly broken man and someone that has also not been afraid to let his voice be heard on the news about the need for gun control. Plimpton’s performance may be the weakest of the four, where her depiction of Gail takes time to catch up to what Isaacs was doing, but when she does get on his level she’s flawless. The unsung performance is Reed Birney, who is the lesser of the known actors, but plays the father who was too busy for his son and had given up on dealing with the family problems with a subtle excellence. The hammer of the film is Dowd. She has much more dialogue than the others it seems, but with good reason, where she draws out the tones of a woman abused by her son’s anger, and a nervous wreck from everything that has occurred. If the majority of the conversation between the four does not get you, the final shot of Dowd’s face will make you weap for a mother’s suffering that her son could commit such a horrific act.
With all the praise that I have for the acting, it may be a wonder why my rating for Mass is a 2 ½ star claim, but that lies in the lack of strength outside the acting. There’s not enough style in the cinematography, a lack of reasoning in the meeting taking place, and I just left with too many questions. It’s interesting because last week a film such as The Guilty was also set in a singular location, but it had more purpose, more depth to who the character was driving the drama. Mass has great acting going for it but when minor problems pile up, taking you out of believing the scenario of a film, that’s a major problem to have. With all that said, I still think you should see Mass, by far it has some of the best performances of 2021, and it also digs into the psychology a parent might have if their child committed these crimes, or was on the other end of a mass shooting. The major question is if you could forgive or find a reason to go on. Mass comes close to finding that answer. It may just want you to pray on it.
MASS IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME FRIDAY OCTOBER 8TH, 2021
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady