Time: 110 Minutes
Reed Birney as Richard
Ann Dowd as Linda
Jason Isaacs as Jay Perry
Martha Plimpton as Gail Perry
Director: Fran Kranz
Two couples meet for a painful and raw conversation in the aftermath of a violent tragedy.
I went into Mass fairly blind, I knew Jason Isaacs was in this and I heard a few people call it one of the most overlooked and best films of 2021. I checked it out, and I definitely agree that more people should be watching it.
First of all, the screenplay is fantastic. The entire movie takes place at a church, it focuses on the meeting between the parents of a victim and the parents of a perpetrator from a school shooting, in which they share a lengthy discussion. That’s all you should know about the premise going into the film. It mostly takes place in this one location and it makes you feel locked and closed in this one room, just like these four characters. The film perfectly balances the four characters and each of their feelings and motivations as it tells its layered story between four parents grieving over a tragic event. The movie has a great amount of emotional weight, showing how each person suffers in their own ways. It is very much exposition heavy with great amounts of dialogue, it’s basically like a play. Mass is dialogue driven but doesn’t become tiresome and thankfully it’s all written very well and feels authentic and real. As you can tell from the premise, the film is tackling a very serious, sad and widespread issue and as such it is an uncomfortable watch (as it should be). While it could’ve easily handled the topic wrong, it dissects it perfectly. It avoids the usual cultural conversations surrounding such tragedies and avoids mentions of political issues, it doesn’t lay blame or give a clear or easy answer as to why these things happened. The focus instead is more on coming to terms with the event, and it encourages understanding and listening. It deals with trauma, grief, blame, loss, regret and more, with a great amount of empathy for those who survived and those who didn’t. It just felt so accurate and raw, and there are many scenes which hit hard. The plot is certainly slowly revealing, purposefully so, it doesn’t rush right into the tense conversations at the centre of the movie. I found this approach to be highly effective. In terms of issues, I will say that the last 20 minutes do seem a little drawn out but it ends very well in its final scenes.
The acting really comes down to its 4 central performances with Jason Issacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd and Reed Birney. They deliver awards worthy performances and get to shine equally. They almost makes you forget that you’re watching a fictional piece of media. Each of them feel very authentic and represent their characters well.
This is Fran Kranz’s debut film, and it is a good first movie. On a technical level it isn’t necessarily special, it isn’t aiming for visual flourish. However it is still very effective in its simplicity. For example the camerawork is quite straightforward and simple when the discussions start out calm and casual; but when the meeting gets more heated the camerawork changes to handheld and really captures the tight environment the central characters are in. There’s also some very effective use of blocking and framing of the four actors, and it conveys the tension very well.
Mass is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and is one of the year’s best. It’s definitely a downer to watch given the subject and the simplicity and slow moving nature may turn people off. However if you know what you’re getting into, I think it is well worth checking out, from its fantastic writing to the outstanding performances.