Sundance Film Review: Mass
Director: Fran Kranz
Premiere: 01.30, 1:00 p.m.
The use of the Times New Roman Font in the ending credits of Mass, actor Fran Kranz’ debut film as a writer director, didn’t work for me for some reason. That’s an idiotic way to start off a review of one the most crushingly emotional, agonizing and hard hitting films that I’ve seen in years, but I was trying to find some way to focus my thoughts enough to get to work on writing instead of just throwing up.
Mass is the story of two sets of parents—Richard (Reed Birney), Linda (Ann Dowd), Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton)—who meet together in a church to have a face to face discussion. years after a tragedy tore all their lives apart. Jay and Gail are finally ready to talk in an attempt to move forward, and Richard and Linda are there to try to help them in any way the can. It’s the least they can do, seeing as how their son gunned down Jay and Gail’s son, along with his entire high school class.
The subject of mass shootings in America, particularly in our schools, is a sensitive one to say the least, and opinion on who is blame and what is to be done about it is so divided that the idea of being in a room alone with people who haven’t even been personally impacted by it but have strong feelings contrary to mine is a thought that makes me queasy for fear that emotions would run too high, but the idea of the spending the afternoon talking with parents of the boy who killed yours, or of the boy your son killed, is completely unfathomable. I just gave my five-year-old nephew a hug and told him I loved him. That helped, and hopefully I can finish the review before I need to go and do so again.
If this review seems rambling and disjointed, that’s because I’m having a very hard time putting into words my thoughts on a movie that I don’t want to think about, but one which will probably be with me forever. Kranz, an actor known for Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods and Joss Whedon‘s irritating, backyard version of Much Ado About Nothing, has created an intimate and edgy little film about something bigger than most of us can comprehend. As both a writer and director, he’s approached the collective and individual emotional and spiritual journeys of these characters with a remarkable sense of sensitivity and balance. It’s a story that is structured like a play, and it’s very much an actor’s movie, and I believe that no one but an actor could have directed it. But Kranz makes measured use of just enough touches of cinematic technique and language to make me feel that it belongs on the screen rather than the stage, in part because the film’s camera movement allows for enough variety in visuals so that the actors can sit and talk without creating artificial excuses to get up and pace the room.
The acting here is absolutely incredible. I complained recently in my review of Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets that no one seems capable of putting Jason Isaacs in a film that’s worthy of his talent, but I didn’t think it would happen this quickly. Isaacs and Plimpton are pitch perfect, and both have moments that are poignant and painful. Isaacs depiction of rage, indignation and pain easily constitutes his career’s best work, and Plimpton tore apart. Birney, who has perhaps the most difficult character, is composed and somewhat distant comparatively, but speaks so much in the things he doesn’t say. But if there’s one member of the cast that will stand out as an award contender, it’s Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale, Hereditary) as a mother who is stuck forever trying to process who her son was and why he did the unspeakable.
Kranz has just leaped headfirst into a whole new league of respectability and relevance as an artist, and I say that as someone who has always been lukewarm on him as an actor. But if there’s one thing above all else that I got out of Mass—aside from a need to go hug my nephews again—it’s that there is more to everyone than what we see on the surface. Mass is a great film, and one of the most uncompromisingly provocative ones that I’ve seen since Tim Robbins‘ Dead Man Walking in 1994, and it’s sure to be the subject of a lot of discussion if people can steel themselves up to watch it. While Kranz has a daunting task ahead of him in finding a worthy follow up, today will always be the day I saw the arrival of the next true giants in the medium. –Patrick Gibbs