As soon as Richard and Linda arrive at a small middle American church, it is painfully obvious that neither they nor the couple they are meeting (Jay and Gail, who have circled the block a few times) will find satisfactory answers. A kindly social worker and almost painfully-helpful church worker find them a quiet room, and after some realistically stilted hellos they broach their reason for meeting: Richard and Linda’s son killed Jay and Gail’s in a school shooting, and they wonder if closure is possible. 

Mass has the feel of a theatrical piece adapted for film, but it was written for screen by actor Fran Kranz in his feature film directorial debut. It could easily work on stage – aside from an entrance and exit through the church, with rambunctious music students breaking up the solemnity and stiltedness of hellos and goodbyes, the piece is confined to a nondescript basement. It is thus solely dependent on its writing and four main actors, and on both counts it succeeds. Kranz’s script pulls out the painful inadequacy of words to make sense of a seemingly random tragedy, alternating half-finished platitudes with futile outbursts.

Dowd captures Linda’s boundless empathy hiding her own equally-scarring confusion about the child she raised. Birney’s Richard comes across as the toughest to crack, hiding his own grief in catalogues of the day. Plimpton plays Gail as a wounded animal, slowly letting layers of curiosity and sympathy take over. Isaacs proves the anchor, his sensible and rational Jay cracking when recalling his son’s sudden final day. 

Mass is a distinctly anti-cinematic experience, but its power in the medium comes from the closeness it fosters to all four central characters and their unutterable bereavement. An acting tour-de-force executed to near perfection, it makes a strong case for static character studies.



CAST: Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, Reed Birney, Martha Plimpton

DIRECTOR: Fran Kranz

WRITER: Fran Kranz

SYNOPSIS: Years after a school shooting, two sets of parents – those of the shooter and those of a victim – meet to find closure.