One film that has a great reception at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is Mass which has subsequently generated a lot of buzz among critics at various film festivals since. Making an appearance at this year’s London Film Festival, Mass shows the meeting between the parents of a high school shooter (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) and the parents of one of the shooter’s victims (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton). What follows is a beautiful film that allows each actor to showcase their emotional range as the characters attempt to come to some sort of resolution by recalling memories of their respective sons and question why the events happened. The film explores a variety of topics from universal issues such as grief and loss to more timely issues such as gun control but at no point does the script feel weighed down or forced as the conversations flow naturally.
Written and directed by Fran Kranz in his directorial debut, Mass feels reminiscent of an onscreen stage adaptation but what is interesting is that it is a completely original screenplay. Despite the entire film taking place within a Church, we can sense the outside world and don’t feel claustrophobic or bored at any point. This is thanks to the intensity in Kranz’s direction and how well the plot points unfold. We don’t know why these people are meeting initially which makes the situation more natural as Kranz does not force feed the audience. This leaves us wanting to learn as much as we can about the situation and we feel the pain and anguish that each parent is feeling and the different reasons why this is the case. Kranz’s decision to cast veteran actors who have performed on stage a lot means that the characters are fully realised in a way that sometimes can be missed by actors who have never acted on stage before.
Playing the parents of the high school shooter are Reed Birney and Ann Dowd who portray Richard and Linda, respectively. The first thing we notice about Richard and Linda is the differences in body language. Linda is very forthcoming, offers a pot of freshly grown flowers, and very eager to start a conversation whereas Richard is much more guarded and reserved. We can see that Richard has a lot to say but is biding his time and biting his tongue until the time is right. Dowd’s performance in particular is arguably the driving force in the film as her character begins the majority of conversations and brings out the reactions out of the other couple, especially when she bursts into tears at the start. What makes Dowd such a fascinating actress is her ability to bring out a humanity in her characters. Linda is a woman who has clearly struggled in her role as a mother and she is now facing the consequences of her son’s actions and wears her heart on her sleeve. Her forthcoming nature may come across as unsettling and uncomfortable, especially as we learn more about the situation, but this serves to help Jay and Gail open up.
Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton portray Jay and Gail, the parents of one of the shooter’s victims. We see them arrive at the church first and the trauma of the past events is evident, even if we don’t know why at this point. Isaacs, in particular, brings out a career best performance which will no doubt result in much awards acclaim and even possible wins. Jay tries to remain level-headed, but unlike Richard, he is unable to move his emotions to the side and eventually we see him breakdown. The monologue in which Richard recalls his visit to the scene is absolutely harrowing to watch and Isaacs paces the story beautifully so we can really picture the story without actually seeing it ourselves. Gail on the other hand is initially more reserved and less open than Jay but she is determined to ensure that this meeting will help them find some resolve and allow them to move on. Plimpton has proven herself to be incredibly varied in her performances having acted in comedy such as Raising Hope as well as dramatic roles such as The Good Wife. Her turn as Gail is deeply complex as we see her wanting to open up but feeling uncomfortable about the situation.
Mass is an absolute masterclass in acting and boasts career best performances from its cast, especially from Dowd and Isaacs who I think will see success come awards season. Kranz has achieved a lot in his debut as he has delivered a film that is fantastically written and beautifully directed and showing that you can provide a gripping drama with deep storytelling in a restricted location. Mass is definitely a film that stays with you long after it ends.
Mass is showing at this year’s London Film Festival!