Directed by: Fran Kranz
Premise: The parents of a school shooter (Ann Dowd and Reed Birney) meet with the parents (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton) of one of their son’s victims. They question each other in an attempt to understand what happened.
What Works: There is an entire genre of mass shooting films. Most of them, such as Elephant and Tower, are about the event itself. The violence is the point. Mass distinguishes itself with the focus on grief rather than guns. This is a movie about four people who have been through a trauma and are trying to work through it to find some kind of resolution. The film is a showcase for its actors. Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton play the parents of one of the shooting victims and we can see the rage and grief of their loss simmering and occasionally boiling over. As is often the case when parents lose a child, Isaacs and Plimpton’s characters have difficulty connecting and the actors and the filmmakers are conscientious of that. The action is staged and shot to pick up on their lack of intimacy and how their meeting allows the couple to find their ways back to one another. Ann Dowd and Reed Birney are cast as the parents of the shooter and they possess a mix of empathy and regret that is shielded by defensiveness. These parents are fully aware of what their son did but they are trying to protect their own sanity and the memory of their son. Mass is extremely well written and skillfully shot. Much of the movie is four people sitting at a table and talking but it is always engaging. The dialogue is intelligent and credible; these parents are written as people who have had years to think about the tragedy and what they want to say and yet there is hesitancy and subtext. The filmmakers use of the space of the room, alternate the cinematic style, and edit the footage to create a vibrance and tension that carries throughout the picture.
What Doesn’t: Mass is bookended by goings on in the church where the parents meet. This material is largely extraneous, especially in the beginning of the film, and it delays the start of the story without really establishing anything important. Despite its grim subject matter, Mass concludes on a mostly hopeful resolution. The parents have aired their grievances and by the end the matter appears to be closed. That makes dramatic sense. Stories generally work toward some kind of resolution or epiphany but in this case the closure feels a little too pat. Given what has happened and what these parents have been through, the conclusion they reach comes across a bit idealized.
Bottom Line: Mass is an emotionally wrenching film but it dramatizes difficult subject matter with intelligence and sensitivity. The cast are exceptional and the filmmakers transform this stagy premise into cinema.
Episode: #905 (June 12, 2022)