A bland meeting room in an Episcopal church in Idaho is the backdrop for the meeting of two couples bound together by shared trauma. Years before, Richard and Linda’s (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) son Hayden shot and killed eleven kids in a high school massacre, including Gail and Jay’s (Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs) son Evan. The intimate summit is meant to provide clarity and closure, but distrust and frustration steer the proceedings as they volley anger and recrimination back and forth.
“Mass” often feels like a stage play transposed to the screen. The bulk of the “action” takes place in one room, around a table as the four hash out the events that shaped their lives in the aftermath of the tragedy. A tempest of anguish, blame and forgiveness, it forcefully mines the emotion of the situation without resorting to sensational flashbacks or lurid recreations of the film’s defining event. Instead, director Kranz trusts the performances and the words to do the job. “I loved Hayden so much,” says Richard, “but maybe he should never have been born.”
Questions about responsibility, radicalization, gun culture and mental illness are woven into “Mass’s” fabric, but the movie is more interested in the human dynamic than answering those queries. This is about the who, not the why.
To that end the main cast members are never anything less than believable. Each explore a different avenue of grief and remembrance, and each deliver an acting masterclass. Restrained and realistic, the actors go deep, unconcerned with flashy pyrotechnics or showboating.
“Mass” is raw and real, devastating, nuanced and somber, a beautifully acted study in misery that allows for a flicker of hope.