Mass – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Fran Kranz
Starring: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton
In cinemas January 21st
You could be forgiven for thinking that this directorial debut from Fran Kranz (who also wrote and produced the movie) was originally a theatre production. For the majority of the film, there are a mere four characters on-screen in one location which is generally a sign that the work was originally created for the stage. While this is not the case, this theatrical stylising of the work does add an intensity and claustrophobia to a story that is already a difficult watch.
It is a simple yet complex story. Jay and Gail Perry (Isaacs and Plimpton) lost their son in a school shooting and six years later they confront Richard and Linda (Birney and Dowd), the parents of the perpetrator, at a pre-arranged meeting in the back room of a church.
As you can imagine this demands a lot of the viewer. The subject matter is deeply distressing and its examination of raw grief is both riveting and uncomfortable. Kranz has stuck to the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) in terms of his cinematography and staging, leaving the viewer completely exposed to the words and emotions on display. With all parties suffering a huge amount of pain and anger, tensions run high while the sense of immeasurable loss prevails as both sides try to make sense of what happened.
Franz has written a thoughtful script that is visceral in its realism. He avoids the temptation to sensationalise or exploit. Where many filmmakers would have resorted to flashback sequences to demonstrate the events being discussed, he leaves it to the dialogue and actors to take the audience on that journey.
The stellar cast seems to revel in this and each of them is given a moment to air their feelings at length. This is a fantastic showcase for their individual talents and the emotion feels completely authentic. It is deeply uncomfortable and voyeuristic but it is completely captivating. All four give brilliant performances that will wrench at your emotions. The intimacy of the cinematography means that you almost feel their pain alongside them. The only moments that take you out of it are the opening and closing of the film which feature additional characters and seem somewhat redundant. The opening is rather slow and adds nothing to the story and the ending just feels unnecessary. There is no need to frame this story as it is so powerful on its own.
With a very dense subject matter, this is a difficult film that demands your full focus and attention. It leaves the viewer feeling rather raw but it is a powerful viewing experience.