- Movie Rating -

Mass (2021)

| November 16, 2021

There is a vibrating tension under almost every minute of Fran Kranz’s Mass which exists entirely based on its subject matter.  I walked into the movie cold and I hope that you might do the same, but realizing that writing a review without spoilers in a movie like this might prove impossible.  Watch the movie and then come back here.  I’ll wait.

Mass is a very tricky movie because it deals in a subject that no one wants to hear about; a school shooting.  But the movie isn’t sensationalistic about the subject.  Director Kranz approaches it from an interesting point of view.  It begins in the basement of an Episcopal church on a cold afternoon and opens with a somewhat cryptic series of dialogue passages setting up the scene.  We see the nervous minister’s wife (Breeda Wool) getting the basement ready for a meeting – we assume possibly a support group.  She doesn’t seem to have a grasp on what is really about to transpire but another more professional-looking woman (Michelle N. Carter) directs her on a more serious note – food and drinks would be inappropriate.

The church is neutral ground, we learn, for two couples.  First is Jay and Gail (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton) and the other are Richard and Linda (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) who, we learn, have come to this meeting reluctantly but cordially and through the prism of their respective attorneys.  Nervous small talk is made as the participants dance around exactly why they are there.

What is intriguing is that Kranz’s script doesn’t cut to the chase.  Activating in real time, the conversation between these two sets of parents eventually takes about half an hour to lead up to the center of the issue.  Both parents lost their sons in a school shooting some years ago, but it is held out for a while that the perpetrator was Richard and Linda’s son and one of his victims was the son of Jay and Gail.

What is contained for 110 minutes is a vibrating chamber pieces based on a words and tense emotions.  Richard and Linda have a lot to answer for – what were they doing while their son was taking up an interesting in guns and violent video games?  What were the signs?  What signs did they miss?  What led up to the tragedy from the beginning?  Their guilt as parents whose hand slipped from their child’s grasp is held in the fact that they initially waited out the media circus hiding behind legal barricades.

Mercifully, they are not defensive in a cartoonish kind of way.  For my money, the best and most difficult performance comes from Ann Dowd with her sad eyes and weariness, she wants just as much of an answer as anyone else.  Much of the dialogue belongs to Dowd and Birney as they try and explain what happened, not in a rational way but in a way that seems reasonable.  Linda bears a look of pain as if she has spent years in an emotional wilderness trying to sort it all out.  Richard, meanwhile, is the only participant in formalwear.  He is not indifferent but clearly, he is the one who is trying to move past it and get on with his life.

Jay and Gail desperately want answers.  Jay seems to want facts, information so that he can put together a mental timeline.  He sees the problem as scientific (it is interesting that given the setting, no one blames God or Satan).  Gail, meanwhile, comes to the table with a broken-hearted defensiveness.  She is played in a very good, very restrained performance by Martha Plimpton, her face drawn back tight as if ready to lash out.  She doesn’t.  She resists big emotional outbursts – we sense the deal made the attorneys have worked this out, but we also sense that she knows that if she lashes out, there may never be another opportunity to answer the lingering questions.

What the movie achieves is a sense of riveting tension.  Kranz, an actor himself in Cabin in the Woods, never exploits this material for cheap, overwrought melodrama.  It’s a sad and nervous subject and there must have been a great temptation to take the raw emotions into deeper waters.  In a sense, I wish it had.  There is a cordiality present here that had trouble believing.  Years of festering emotions of loss and grief and anger have, literally, come to the table but there is something far too restrained about it.  At the end, there are hugs and I had trouble believing that.  Part of me is glad that the movie remained in the realm of logic, but another part of me wanted the emotional battle axes to be drawn.  As the movie draws to its conclusion, maybe it all seemed a little too civilized.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2021) View IMDB Filed in: Drama