Two couples enter a small room in a church. “It’s a secluded room,” utters the church employee. There’s a layer of ambiguity that surrounds this meeting. You know it’s a tragic event based on the social worker’s survey of the room. The sheer appearance of paper mâché stained glass art projects that hang in the windows, gives us pause as to what may happen. Mass, directed by Fran Kranz, doesn’t shelter us from the aftermath of a tragedy that’s about to unfold before our very eyes.
Greeting us in a cautious way, Mass handles the characters as delicate humans in an effort to not stir the situation any more than it already is. Jay and Gail sit in their parked car — apprehensive to go inside. The tragedy of suddenly losing their son is still fresh in their hearts. Gail is the more closed off (her arms folded in front of her) next to her husband who’s a little more open to attending this meeting. Before them sits Linda and Richard. Once the couples begin to speak, the truth as to their meeting is revealed. Here sits the parents of a young boy killed in a mass shooting, and across the table are the parents of the young man behind the killings.
This is Kranz’s first time in the director’s chair after a long filmography playing bit parts in movies like Training Day and The Village. But wow! Wow, wow, wow! His use of camera work and storytelling makes the audience feel like a fly on the wall. We’re privy to the information that is being told to the characters, but not sure if we really should be allowed to hear such vulnerable statements.
The cast is what makes Mass an absolute must-see of the movies I was able to view at Sundance. Martha Plimpton. What can I say about Martha Plimpton? Plimpton plays Gail, a woman who travels from one extreme of emotions to another throughout the film. She gives a near perfect performance, and to be honest I could continue to make this review about how gloriously breathtaking she is in the film. Her connection, and often disconnection between the other mother, Linda, blur the lines of good and bad, right and wrong. Ann Dowd, as the mother of the shooter, is another near perfect performance. She’s quiet, not exactly knowing how to react because her son is not gone in the same way that Gail’s son is gone. They have the connection as mothers, but clearly their loss is vastly different. Jay, Jason Issacs, is by far the most surprising performance of the cast. Known mostly as the villains he plays whether it be in Harry Potter or The Patriot, this is one of the most poignant characters he’s ever played. Isaacs gives Jay kindness, aggressiveness, but most of all, vulnerability. His vulnerability, and frankly all of the characters vulnerability, culminates into the emotional climax of the film.
I came across Mass by the interesting synopsis listed as I reserved my spot for the films I would be seeing. Mass was the first film I saw during the festival and, by the end, it remained my favorite. The moving screenplay brought tears to my eyes, as the incredible performances are well deserving of awards come next year. I’ll gladly start petitioning for Martha Plimpton’s awards starting now. To stumble on a film that moves you to your core is rare, but it happens. A film that you can’t stop talking about — even to those who haven’t seen it. Mass tells such a beautiful story about dealing with loss in such a tragic way, and being willing to forgive in order to cope with the past. A message that we can all learn to live by.
Written & Directed by: Franz Kranz
Starring: Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, Reed Birney, and Jason Isaacs