Mass (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Four troubled parents in the room

“Mass” is a modest but undeniably compelling drama about four ordinary people struggling to deal with their respective human losses caused by one terrible incident. While it simply observes a series of tense and strained interactions among them, the movie is often devastating and harrowing as gradually letting us have more empathy and understanding on their pain and sorrow, and it is really poignant to see some little glimpse of hope and healing at the end of their grueling emotional journey.

During its opening part, the movie slowly establishes the situation among its four main characters. In the one room inside a small church located in some little rural town, their private meeting is about to be held, and the movie generates a bit of dry humor as the two employees of the church nervously prepare for the meeting along with a mediator who arranged the meeting for the four main characters in advance.

As the mediator is waiting for the four main characters’ arrival, we meet Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton) first. They are still conflicted about whether they can really face Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd) despite what happened some time ago, but they eventually decide to go to the meeting as planned, and they subsequently find themselves in the room along with Richard and Linda while their mediator makes the final check on whether they are all ready for conversation.

Once the mediator leaves the room, the mood among these four people feels pretty awkward to say the least. All of them try to be courteous and tactful as much as possible, and Jay and Gail generously exchange some personal news with Richard and Linda, but it does not take much time for them to begin to talk about the certain inconvenient fact among them. Several months ago, there was a horrendous shooting incident at the high school attended by their kids, and Richard and Linda’s son was the culprit while Jay and Gail’s son was one of several schoolmates killed by Richard and Linda’s son at that time.

Although they are willing to give Richard and Linda a moment of forgiveness, Jay and Gail cannot help but become fixated on how Richard and Linda’s son came to commit such a horrible deed, but Richard and Linda understandably cannot give Jay and Gail any possible answer for that because, well, they were shocked and surprised as much as Jay and Gail at that time. Yes, their son, who incidentally killed himself in the end, was a shy and introverted loner, and his unmistakable signs of danger look quite clear to them now in retrospect, but they still have no idea on what really drove their son into such an extreme act of violence.

As Richard and Linda come to argue more with Jay and Gail, the mood naturally becomes more intense than before, director/writer/co-producer Fran Kranz, who has mainly worked as an actor for years before making a directorial debut here in this film, subtly dials up the level of emotional intensity. At first, cinematographer Darren Morze’s camera sticks to its static and distant positions, but then the camerawork gradually becomes shaky with more close-ups, and we accordingly find ourselves more immersed in the increasingly dynamic circumstance among its four main characters. As they show each own anger and sadness more and more along the story, our empathy is pulled toward all of them, and Kranz’s screenplay did a skillful job of organically building up its main characters via recognizable human elements.

Above all, his four main performers, who will deservedly receive the Robert Altman Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, are all simply magnificent in their achingly powerful acting without any false note. While Jason Isaacs, a British actor who has been mainly known for his several notable supporting turns including the one in Harry Potter movies, slowly exudes his character’s quiet intensity along the story, Martha Plimpton, a veteran actress whom you probably remember as one of the supporting characters in “The Goonies” (1985), deftly complements Isaacs on the screen, and they instantly convey to us their characters’ emotionally damaged status right from the beginning. At one point later in the film, Plimpton has an unforgettable moment as her character lets out more of her feelings in front of others, and I must confess that that is one of several powerful scenes in the film which almost made me broken down with tears during my viewing.

On the opposite, Reed Birney and Ann Dowd, who also have a considerable acting career just like their co-stars, are an equal acting match for Isaacs and Plimpton. Birney is particularly wonderful when his character indirectly reveals his deep grief and torment behind his seemingly unflappable façade, and Dowd is utterly heartbreaking as her character later confides something important to Plimpton’s character around the end of the story. This scene seems rather redundant at first, but Dowd is devastatingly superb in her delivery, and the result is another emotional blow for us.

In conclusion, “Mass”, which incidentally won the Audience Award when it was shown at the Flash Forward section of the Busan International Film Festival several months ago, is a superb drama film which will knock you down for its sheer emotional power. As writing this review, I often found myself emotionally overwhelmed as remembering how strongly I responded to the film at last night, and I guess that says a lot about what Kranz and his cast and crew members splendidly achieve here.

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