Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Years after a mass shooting at a high school, two sets of parents —Richard (Reed Birney), Linda (Ann Dowd), Jay (Jason Isaacs), and Gail (Martha Plimpton) — meet to discuss the tragedy. The interaction is going to be tense. Jay and Gail’s son was killed in the mass shooting by Richard and Linda’s son.
Writer-Director Fran Krantz’s debut Feature is a heartbreaking look at the aftermath of tragedy. He examines guilt, resentment and the power of forgiveness. Although Mass is set primarily in one room and has heavy dialogue throughout, it never gets boring thanks to the powerhouse Ensemble he’s assembled.
Birney is mysterious as Richard, who often denies the role mental health played in his son’s actions. He shines in a scene where he explains that parents always see the best in their children. Dowd proves, once again, why she is one of the greatest working actresses today. She gets to the heart of being a mother: her unrelenting love for her son and guilt for not seeing what he was capable of doing. Isaacs is phenomenal as the grief-ridden, yet controlled Jay. He’s particularly poignant in a scene where Jay’s emotions get the better of him. And Plimpton is a force as Gail, who will do anything to hold onto her anger because she believes it’s the only way to hold on to her son.
From the moment they’re all in the room together, a feeling of discomfort sets-in. We are introduced first to Jay and Gail, whom visibly are consumed by their grief and anger. This is a contrast to Richard and Linda, whom appear to be racked with guilt. As time progresses, the dialogue becomes increasingly truthful, exposing their humanity within. It’s when they become honest that we learn about the healing power of communication. In a world where everyone wants to talk and no one wants to listen, Krantz places us in a room with no escape and makes us listen. In doing so, he shows us how open conversation and active listening can lead to catharsis and healing.
At the start of their interaction, it feels as though the conversation has been rehearsed. They’ve had years of imagining this moment. In these scenes, Krantz holds a steady camera and makes clean cuts between his characters. Eventually, the ugliness rears its head. This is when Krantz switches to a shaky hand-held camera with quick, choppy edits between close-ups of his characters. This dramatic change punctuates his characters’ inner emotions.
Overall, Mass is an emotionally hard-hitting Film filled with four riveting performances that will leave you shaken.
Mass screens at Sundance:
Live Premiere: January 30 at 3 PM (EST)
On-Demand (available for 24 hours): February 1 at 10 AM (EST)