Mass (directed by Fran Kranz): Critic of the Philadelphia Film Festival
Mass is a film that looks like a play. The bottom line is that four people are seated around a table discussing the fallout from a school shooting that claimed the lives of many children, including their own. There are two couples. One played by Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, and the other by Ann Dowd and Reed Birney. They rented the back room of a church for their meeting, and aside from the slightly comical bookends involving church staff and a mediator, this little room is where we spend the entire movie.
It’s a quartet of dream roles for any actor interested in chewing on heavy material. Each character is both a lead role and a supporting role, with each performer taking advantage of rotational opportunities to take center stage. I’m a terrible actor, but the hardest thing I’ve found in the process is learning to trust whoever you share a scene with. I can’t do this because I’m a broken, degenerate old stand-up comic, but I know it when I see it, and these performers are extremely generous to each other as the conversation gets complicated. is progressing.
The question is whether a heavy, single-location dialogue storyline can validate a cinematic treatment. First-time writer / director Fran Kranz finds cinema in the faces of his cast, but doesn’t use uncomfortable close-ups to give them weight. Instead, a thoughtful yet simple shot composition gives this tense process some breathing room, while also handling the high-flying act of keeping the audience engaged. It’s not a one-take movie, but the flow of events really looks like it.
There are times when certain emotional twists seem to come out of left field. None are clearly off-base, but there were a few moments where it seemed like a transition dialogue could have helped. That said, it’s impossible to predict how someone will react to a tragedy, and I’ve lived a life of minimal trauma, so I’ll reserve my judgment.
Kudos to Kranz for maintaining a line of hope and positivity through what should be really dark things. He even manages to slip into a well-rounded humor (which feels natural if you’ve seen some of his many acting roles – he’s a funny guy). It seems illogical that a story of a school shooting happens so easily, but it does. Kudos also to Martha Plimpton, who, despite having as much material to go through as anyone else on screen, steals the film from me. Maybe it’s a latent ’80s crush that I have, but I’d like to attribute it to the complexity of his performance. Very well done.
As part of the Philadelphia Film Festival, from October 20 to 30, 2021; filmadelphia.org/festival