Review by Camden Ferrell
Mass was the breakout hit of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, and it’s abundantly clear almost instantly why that is the case. It is the feature directorial debut of actor Fran Kranz, who assembled an extremely talented ensemble for his first outing. This is a masterfully acted drama that tackles thematically heavy subjects with sensitivity, diving into the raw emotions of pain that persist long after tragedy.
In the aftermath of a tragic school shooting, two sets of parents come together to process their emotions and heal. Jay and Gail lost their son in the aforementioned school shooting, and Richard and Linda are the parents of the perpetrator. Over the course of the movie, the parents sit in a room together in an attempt to come to grips with their reality. This is a complex and heartbreaking premise that isn’t restricted by its single setting and allows for some great dialogue.
The script, written by Kranz, is absolutely masterful. The dialogue is so fleshed out and natural in the most brutal ways. It captures a wide range of emotions in this real-time story, and it never once looses steam. All the transitions between emotions are so delicately and expertly executed, and the dialogue is nothing short of brilliant. It’s full of great insights into the minds of all the characters, and it is genuinely gut-wrenching in all of the best ways.
While Kranz’s script is excellent, a lot of credit must be given to the near-perfect ensemble. This film stars Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney who all give career-best performances. The script provides an exceptional framework, but it’s their delivery and acting that truly elevate this film into a modern classic. Their grief, pain, joy, and catharsis are palpable, and they might bring you to tears if you let them.
One of the most surprising parts of this movie is how it’s depoliticized yet still so timely. It doesn’t feel biased in its views on important issues, and the movie makes it a point early on not to center its premise on any politics. This decision truly allows the viewers to focus solely on the emotions of these characters and the unique and unimaginable journey they have been on.
This is a difficult watch, and it surely isn’t for everyone. However, it’s one of the most well-made, dialogue-driven dramas in a very long time. Everyone is in complete control of their craft, and it makes this a harrowing and emotional thrill ride that stands out as one of the crowning achievements in filmmaking this year.
With its PG-13 rating, this movie is accessibly to many viewers, and it fosters a lot of discussion about its relevant themes and difficult topics. As a whole, this film is a testament to the abilities of its ensemble as well as being one of the most impressive directorial debuts of the decade so far. It’s a must-see film that will tear you apart before putting you back together again.
Mass is one of those rare perfect films. It’s a movie that grips you immediately and doesn’t loosen up. It’s a heartbreaking portrait of grief unlike anything ever seen before. Isaacs, Plimpton, Dowd, and Birney do amazing things on screen all thanks to the great script and direction of Kranz.
Mass is in theaters October 8.