Now that our covid cases are on the decline, our cinemas will be reopening tomorrow. I haven’t been in one since January 5th when I saw WEST SIDE STORY. The film opened the next day, and then Omicron hit and everything closed down. The hiatus wasn’t a total bust for me though. I was able to watch quite a few films at home that had flown under my radar over the past year. One of them is MASS, a quiet but incredibly powerful film from first-time director Fran Kranz (TV’s JULIA), who also wrote the screenplay.
The less revealed about the story, the better, although the trailer gives away the film’s premise. In MASS, two couples – Jay (Jason Isaacs, the HARRY POTTER franchise) and Gail (Martha Plimpton, TV’s RAISING HOPE), and Richard (Reed Birney, THE HUNT; THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION; TV’s HOUSE OF CARDS) and Linda (Ann Dowd, TV’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE; HEREDITARY) – meet up for a frank and often painful conversation about a tragic event that brought their families together six years earlier.
MASS gives the viewer plenty to consider. The drunk who gets behind the wheel of his car, the pilot who intentionally crashes his plane, the man who shoots up a nightclub… when horrible events like these happen, we naturally mourn for those who die so tragically but do we ever give thought to their families who are left to try to make some sense of their loss? A few of them are able to convert their grief into action but most cannot. These people are shattered, stuck in a grey zone, forever looking for answers that are just not there. Imagine, then, what it must be like for the families of those who perpetrate these tragedies? Society immediately brands them as bad parents or siblings for not doing enough to stop the event from happening but is there always a defining moment when a family can say that their son/daughter, husband/wife, brother/sister, father/mother is on a path that will lead to destruction? It’s human nature to assume that the worst won’t happen. Even if there is that moment, can they still stop it from happening? These are the questions that Jay, Gail, Richard and Linda are grappling with and each of them deals with them in a different way. Jay is searching for some medical or psychological answer while Gail is just consumed by the unfairness of it all. Richard refuses to be blamed while Ann seems to be carrying the burden for both of them. The four dance around the elephant in the room before tackling it head on. They arrive at an outcome that none of them could have imagined possible when they agreed to speak to each other.
All the actors deliver powerful performances here but it’s Dowd who outshines them all. Listening to her character speak of her loss and inner torment is enough to break your heart. Her performance garnered her a BAFTA nomination a few months back but she lost out to Ariana DeBose (WEST SIDE STORY). For writer-director Kranz, this is a fabulous first effort and I look forward to seeing what he has next. For the time being, it appears that he’s content to be in front of the camera as he’s involved in at least three new acting projects.
MASS premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and had a very limited cinema run last October. It’s available now Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and a number of other online platforms. The film is well worth watching and it will certainly give you pause to think about families like these.
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