I saw Mass twice in 24 hours during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and I had mixed feelings about the movie. I thought it was a bit long and I didn’t love the ending. But it’s one movie that I hadn’t forgotten about since seeing it. The story lingered in my head, the acting remained in my head, and the what-if stayed in my head. So I needed to watch it and I needed to understand why I couldn’t forget this movie.
Written and Directed by Fran Kranz
Starring Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney,
Plot: Years after an unspeakable tragedy tore their lives apart, two sets of parents (Reed Birney & Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs & Martha Plimpton) 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.
What would it be like to receive the call – the call – that a school shooter murdered your child? What would it be like to receive the call that your child was a school shooter? Time after time, when these transpire on the news, you put yourself in the shoes of these families and ponder what you would do. Fran Kranz takes that one step further by giving us these questions in a cinematic way that forces us to feel what it would be like.
The movie opens in a small town church that has a home-like feeling—a very overzealous church member trying to help with the setup of everything. However, the environment is warming and welcoming, which is a beautiful setup for what is ahead.
Fran Kranz does so many things that are remarkable here at the beginning of the film. His introductions to these characters is subtle yet awkward, as two families came together to talk about a tragedy that affected both families in two distinctly different ways. Each of the characters is at the table for the same reason, but each has processed the events differently.
First, we have Jay and Gail, Jay is the more outspoken for the pair, but we see early on that Gail has a lot to say, yet she is holding back. Next, we have Linda and Richard. Linda is more outspoken, wants to talk a lot and even somewhat says a lot but nothing at all at the same time. Richard is quiet and tries to reel in Linda from time to time as she gets out of control.
The build here is brilliant, and small talk is the theme, each side really talking about how their lives have attempted to move past the events (even six years later). At certain moments when it veers to be political, you begin to wonder if the movie will become somewhat preachy, but Kranz does a great job of giving a little to nibble on but reeling it back into the root of why these four are here. There is a sudden shift in what happens when the power of words has never hit so profoundly.
Why do I want to know about your son? Because he killed mine.Martha Plimpton as Gail
The tension in the room the moment these words roll off Gail’s mouth is absurd. We witnessed many words being said, some of substance, some not, but Gail finally stopped holding back and dropped the bomb. Gail and Jay seek answers for questions they are unsure of, but they know they miss their son and don’t understand why he was taken away. They want to see empathy, regret, sadness and even pain in the eyes of Linda and Richard, and they want explanations of how their son could do this.
The school couldn’t be bother, he was quiet and doing well. He didn’t require attention.
While some will get this and some may not, as a parent, hearing Linda and Richard talk about how everyone mourned the ten people murdered that day, while they mourned 11, was eye opening and heart shattering. I was blown away by the wording here by the script from Kranz because you never look at it that way from the standpoint of watching it unfold. You think about the victims, the victim’s parents, the kids that may have seen something and you think, “how could these parents let this happen,” but you never stop to think, this is their child, this is their baby, this is their loss too. Kranz doesn’t try to paint their kid as a sympathetic figure, but what he does is put us right in the shoes of these parents who weren’t able to mourn the way the other parents could.
I can’t say enough about the acting in this movie because each of these four actors has moments where they knock you on the floor. One moment in particular for Isaacs that will be cemented in my head for the rest of my life was when he explained how his son was killed and how Linda and Richard’s son was cold and calculated in how he did it. Isaacs gives us these words clearly and concisely with anger and pain. The retort from Reed Birney (Richard) is one of the best writing moments of the film. All movie long, you seek that empathy from his character and the emotion rarely comes across from him, but at this moment, explaining to each individual that his son murdered, I was floored.
I remember my first watch of this movie (here is my review), I complained about the ending, however, after my third watch, I have no clue what I was thinking. The moment that Ann Dowd (future Oscar-winning Supporting Actress) walks back into that room and delivers her Oscar moment, that was the moment I said this movie is a masterpiece.
It’s four people sitting at a table talking about tragedy. No razzle-dazzle, no unnecessary flashbacks, and no unneeded overbearing score, just four grieving parents making way for four of the best performances you will see this year, maybe any year. Hats off to Fran Kranz, Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd and Reed Birney. Thank you for reminding me why I love film so much.