(director/writer: Fran Kranz; cinematographer: Ryan Jackson-Healy; editor: Yang Hua Hu; music: Darren Morze; cast: Breeda Wool (Judy), Jason Isaacs (Jay), Martha Plimpton (Gail), Ann Dowd (Linda), Reed Birney (Richard), Michelle N. Carter (Kendra), Kagen Albright (Anthony): Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dylan Matlock/J.P. Ouellette/Casey Wilder Mott/Fran Kranz; 7 Eccles Street; 2021)
“Though the film can’t help being stagey, it still in a magnificently human way shows us how to have a meaningful dialogue about a current American crisis that’s dividing the country.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The directorial debut for the former actor Fran Kranz, known for ‘killing it’ in “Cabin in the Woods” and “Dollhouse,” gives us a unique and successful endeavor, in this gripping intimate drama that paints a picture of grief from gun violence for two grieving families–one family’s son was shot to death while the other family’s son was the shooter, who then took his own life.
In a no nonsense and sober way Mass explores the pain and heartbreak that the two families feel after such a tragedy, as they meet in a room in the neutral site of an Episcopal church. in an unnamed small-town in Idaho, to talk about the incident while alone in the room with only a table and four chairs (it’s set in that single room–whose walls are covered with Christian art and symbols– for 90 minutes, nearly the entire film). A support organization arranged the meeting as a means of healing spiritually. Overseeing the meeting’s needs are the parish workers Judy (Breeda Wool) and Anthony (Kagen Albright), while conducting the meeting to make sure it goes right is the efficient business-like social worker Kendra (Michelle N. Carter).
Both families travel far to get to the site, and both feel uneasy about being here. The shooting victim’s family arrives first. Their son was one of ten victims of a Parkland-like school shooting. The still shaken parents after a long lapse of a few years are the sensitive Jay (Jason Isaacs) and his embittered wife Gail (Martha Plimpton), who is still filled with animosity toward the shooter. The shooter’s parents enter later, they are Richard (Reed Birney), a businessman who is defensive about his son. He lays the blame for the tragedy on the broken-down mental health system that never helped his mentally ill son. His wife Linda (Ann Dowd), who has since the incident divorced him, is more remorseful and tries to see both sides of the tragedy. In the initial stages of the meeting, the couples feel awkward and make polite conversation, as it takes a long time before they bring up the shooting.
The performances are super. The stage actors Plimpton and Birney handle their difficult roles with aplomb, while Isaacs and Dowd give warm and convincing performances. The low-key film covers the themes of the national debate raging over gun control. It asks for a spiritual understanding to bring about forgiveness and understanding so the crisis can abate without further hostility. Though the film can’t help being stagey, it still in a magnificently human way shows us how to have a meaningful dialogue about a current American crisis that’s dividing the country. Such a film gives us a glimmer of hope that things may get resolved some day, and people will come to their senses to find a peaceful way to end the violence.
REVIEWED ON 2/18/2021 GRADE: A-