Franz Kranz’s surprising debut, a stripped-back, chamber piece examination of forgiveness, offers a timely lesson for a divided world.
Mass (2021) is the emotionally arresting and technically adept debut from writer-director Fran Kranz. Two couples – Gail and Jay (Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs) and Linda and Richard (Ann Dowd, Reed Birney) – meet for a painful conversation years after a tragic shooting. The former couple are the parents of one of the victims; the latter, those of the perpetrator. Yet, despite this division, one initially deemed unbridgeable, Kranz insists both have lost a son.
Taken by the notion that people can meet face-to-face and work through their differences simply through talking and listening, Kranz suggests the futility of attempting to deflect retrospective blame and advocates the power and necessity of forgiveness, a message that could not be more pertinent, especially given today’s division, hatred, and increasing polarisation.
What is an extremely sensitive issue is handled here in a careful and ultimately cathartic way. Kranz astutely sidesteps the highly politicised gun issue and, without the presence of any flashbacks (onto which a lesser film might fall back), the audience remains captive to the unsensational yet still gripping present anguish.
The screenplay deserves award consideration and is, overall, a writing masterclass
Although the four-actor chamber piece has the emotional intensity and minimal blocking most would associate with theatre, it remains distinctly cinematic, with cinematographer Ryan Jackson-Healey’s arresting close-ups bringing an intimacy available only to film.
The screenplay deserves award consideration and is, overall, a writing masterclass. All four central characters feel fully realised, and their tension is palpable throughout. What is more, the film perfectly displays the power of silence, one contending with and sometimes surpassing that of dialogue.
Aside from (but perhaps also as a consequence of) the screenplay, the performances prove to be gripping, unrelenting and yet, despite the film’s constant heaviness, somehow avoid desensitising the audience. Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton and Reed Birney all give their finest performances to date, and Ann Dowd, having already proven her seemingly limitless capability as an actress (The Handmaid’s Tale and The Leftovers), continues to impress here.
Mass is a painfully intimate and emotionally charged meditation on grief, acceptance and forgiveness, whose message is timely and stays long after the credits roll.