While an epic adventure movie like Dune is probably best seen on the biggest screen you can find, Mass is the opposite. It’s best seen in the most intimate setting you can find. Perhaps a dark quiet room where you can become immersed in the quiet drama, where nobody will see the ugly cry that may seep out near the end of the film. Mass looks and feels more like a stage play than a film, and would probably be better served in that particular venue. The setting is sparse. The silences intense. The dialogue engrossing. The story tragic, yet ultimately cathartic. A difficult watch, made watchable by four incredibly strong and moving performances.
Mass stars Tony Award winner Reed Birney (Richard), Ann Dowd (Linda), Jason Isaacs (Jay) and Martha Plimpton (Gail) as two sets of parents brought together in a church basement to discuss a violent tragedy that tore their lives apart. Jay and Gail lost their son in a school shooting; Richard and Linda lost their son too; he was the shooter. It’s several years later and the foursome have agreed to talk privately to sort through their questions and their grief, and hopefully find a way to move forward. Emotions are raw. Each parent has processed grief and loss in their own way. And each views the meeting itself through a different lens.
The film marks the writing and directing debut of actor Fran Kranz. It’s a solid debut effort, though the top and bottom of the film don’t give the middle its proper due. Secondary characters take about 20 minutes to set the scene for what’s about to occur in the small-town church, and they pop back in at the end to button up the narrative. They are extraneous, and distract from the powerful performances that drive the heart of the film. Mass is at its strongest when we’re trapped in the room with these two couples who in essence represent every parent affected by Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook…
They are parents struggling to seek and provide answers to impossible questions. The conversation grows increasingly candid and heart-wrenching as both sets of parents remember the boys they raised, and contemplate whether forgiveness is in the cards.
Arty Chick’s take: I am in total with Mainstream Chick on this one. Great ensemble. Crushing story. Definitely have some tissues handy. I watched just shortly after the latest school shooting (Oxford High School shooting in Michigan) and it felt so timely and maddening. Great script, though I agree that the parts with the church folks before and after the parents come together felt unnecessary and took away from the heart of the story. Nevertheless, this one should be seen by wide audiences in America as we grapple with the tragic and unending slaughter of school children.
Mass opens nationwide October 29.