Mass (2021)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 2021. , , . Screenplay by Fran Kranz. Cinematography by . Produced by Fran Kranz, , , . Music by . Production Design by . Film Editing by .

An explosive issue that is ravaging the United States and continuing to shock the world is delivered through simple staging and a small cast in this intense and moving drama. Debuting director Fran Kranz, better known to audiences as an actor in a number of Joss Whedon projects, assembles an impressive roster of actors for an experience more familiar as a great night at the theatre, but when rendered on cinema screens is no less involving even in the moments that feel the most scripted for thematic effect.

A meeting room in an Episcopalian church is being fussed over by the church coordinator who is making a near nuisance of herself trying to set things up properly, welcoming in a facilitator who approves the space before she then escorts two couples in, who sit down and meet each other face to face. The meeting begins with cordial and tense exchanges, polite banter, the sharing of photos and souvenirs, and we the audience agonize over figuring out what it is that has brought them together and is at the heart of their very anxious interaction; of course we trust that we’ll get there, as nobody ever brought into a charged situation in the hopes that she would stay calm.

These couples, we learn, are survivors of a very dark tragedy in their lives, one pair (Plimpton, ) having suffered a great loss because of someone connected to the other, now separated couple (, ). Arguments soar, accusations are made, apologies are offered and questions asked in an effort to get these four people to state of grace, perhaps not forgetting the past but certainly hoping to find a way to fit it into their lives going forward.

The dialogue sometimes feels forced, as if Kranz started with an issue he wanted to exorcise through art and sacrificed a few natural instincts in the name of doing so, but what he really gets right is how he captures the impossibility of good intentions in circumstances as challenging as this one: these four people have shown up willing to listen, with no intention to hate or blame, but it’s hard to describe the size of your pain to someone without implying that theirs is less important, and that can turn to accusations very quickly.

What works best, though, is that these exchanges are performed with such dynamic charisma and dedication by the cast that you will find, even when you are most aware of it as scripted drama, that you are deeply touched by the places they go and the truths about life, loss and forgiveness that they examine on the road to finding peace. For the audience, it’s a reminder that stories such as these, which most of us learn about through news media, are ones whose details we can never understand if we’re not directly involved.

It’s shocking that this was shot in just over a week, but that compact production time likely adds to the intensity of what you’re watching, particularly considering that the project involves actors who could easily perform this piece eight nights a week on a theatrical stage.

Critics Choice Award Nomination: Best Supporting Actress (Ann Dowd)

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