The emotionally exhausting film “Mass” is an impressive screenwriting and directorial debut from Fran Kranz. It’s exceptionally well-written, skillfully acted, and thoughtfully explores the idea of grief, guilt, and forgiveness. This film will break you.
Two couples, Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd), and Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), meet face-to-face after a tragic event connected their two families over 6 years ago. They’re hoping that talking out their anger, sadness, and frustrations will finally allow them to put their painful memories in the past and move forward with their lives. These two families had their entire worlds ripped apart, and each are dealing with the aftermath and lingering repercussions of the violent event in different ways. Throughout the course of the meeting, there are accusations, interrogations, apologies, and attempts to heal what’s broken in all of them.
Kranz has written an incredibly moving screenplay, with dialogue that’s distressing and painful. The performances are impassioned, and the cast contributes to the film’s heavy emotional impact. The characters are sympathetic, with Jay and Gail desperate for any rational explanation and Richard and Linda’s unbearable pain from years of living with the “what ifs?” and the guilt of not seeing the warning signs before the worst happened.
Kranz sets his film in the basement of a church, which lends the most sterile, dreary tone. He adds to the audience’s discomfort by using agonizing close-up shots as the confrontation grows more heated. What starts as an awkward meeting rages into a tense discussion that no parent ever wants to have.
The film feels a little stagey and not totally organic, but it has an emotional rawness that effectively captures the different ways people process grief. There’s some heavy-handed religious imagery towards the end of the film, which is completely unnecessary. Even if there was an ironic point to be made about the contradictions of Christian beliefs versus actual practice when it comes to forgiveness, it feels like gross pandering. This didn’t ruin “Mass,” but it certainly knocks it down a few notches.