Fran Kranz has made an uneasy yet riveting debut feature in Mass. All four actors blow you away with how raw their interactions are; aided by a superb script, this raw, devastating, and in truth, vital piece drains you emotionally.
Two pairs of parents meet up in a church hall to meet and discuss events that irrevocably affected them both.
Mass is Fran Kranz’s heartbreaking first furore in the director’s chair, and what a swing it is. An emotionally draining feature that takes all the right risks and succeeds handsomely. Kranz eases his audience in assumedly with his opening, people quietly setting up a room inside a church for a meeting. So when the ever-increasing powder keg of tension builds and builds as the couples finally reveal the reason as to why they are there, it is truly guy punching. The emotional toll that we as an audience are taken through is extraordinary and yet also quite unthinkable. A fantastic chamber piece that is cathartic and unrelenting in its honesty.
You can see the research that has been carried out here by Kranz as he gets so much right here in Mass. He has not merely written a screenplay that breezes through the trauma, guilt and anger of its topic but has written one that has zoned in on those aspects with such pinpoint emotional accuracy that it becomes powerful. This stripped-back idea compels you from the first moment the foursome lock eyes with one another until the last moments of Mass. By having each character carry their own baggage into the meeting and have even the couples themselves splintered, they each have to come to terms and to the stark realisation of the pain each is suffering and that that pain is warranted and allowed, no matter how difficult that is to accept.
Kranz’s script is a very strong one, though with that said, there are moments of misplaced melodrama that Mass never really needs to remain true to itself. Fortunately, the bulk of the script, performances and sombre direction are enough to carry the film. Still, those melodramatic moments do not rob us of anything and are merely a minor grievance in a stunning picture.
All four are excellently cast, with Kranz (probably wearing his actor’s hat while in the writing chair) making sure that all four have strong moments to shine, with Dowd and Isaacs probably standing out the most. Isaacs’ Jay is a man who tries to find the reason and understanding in everything and has been doing his best to keep a level head. However, emotions and pain are things we can sometimes never fully grapple with, as we see as the discussion goes on. Finally, his pain comes to the surface, he has been sitting on a nuclear weapon of emotions for too long, and it all comes out. Dowd is exceptional as Gail, a woman who so desperately wants to make peace and apologise for what happened but is still struggling with her own loss herself. She brings a haunting reality to her character.
Though that is not to short-change Plimpton and Birney, who, as mentioned, are very strong with Plimpton carrying the rightful rage and hostility that you would expect from a parent who has had their heart torn out from them. She has so much that is needed to be vented out of her so badly that all she can do at the beginning is lash. But as the film continues in its 110 minutes, realisation and perhaps even acceptance of the other couple’s side of the story comes through.
Equally, Birney goes through his own complex arc, a man who doesn’t want to talk about what happened and would rather be somewhere else. Far more comfortable hiding from what happened, so when he too is confronted with the pain, his own also allows itself to come out. It is simply excellent, well-executed work from the four, and their performances complement each other wonderfully. The little reactions to certain lines and moments are exquisite; all four should receive the plaudits for their work here in Mass.
Mass is a triumph and, sadly, one that has gone under the radar. Please do not make the same mistake in letting this film go by you; this intimate film has some career-best performances from its cast and pummels you once all is revealed. It may not be a film that has the grandest of scopes, but it never intends to; it instead has something very integral to say about grief and boy does it deliver its message – utterly unmissable.
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