You may not be familiar with actor Fran Kranz by name, but before this year is over, you will. You are probably familiar with some of his work though. He played Topher Brink in the TV series Dollhouse and starred in the odd horror film The Cabin in the Woods. He’s appeared on Broadway in Death of a Salesman and You Can’t Take it With You, but his latest project, writing and directing the movie Mass seems out of character for him.
Mass isn’t a comedy or a superhero story. It isn’t a thriller nor is it a horror film, at least not in the traditional way. It’s a drama made, I am sure, with a fairly low budget. Almost all of the action takes place in a small room within a small church within a small, quiet community. It is this room where four characters bare their souls to one another unsure how each will be received by the others. It’s a story of pain, sadness, anger, resentment, forgiveness and hope. Hardly the themes of a blockbuster movie. There’s not a single car chase and virtually no music at all. At times, it is hard to watch but easy to remember how it makes one feel.
I have heard that Kranz was raised a Christian, but now he no longer practices his faith. I’m unsure what that mean exactly. Does he no longer believe in Christ our Savior and does he just not attend church anymore? Whatever the definition, the message of Mass is just as strong if not stronger than a preachy faith-based film and I have to believe that inspiration comes from a higher place than just his own thoughts.
In the press notes for the film, Kranz explained that the inspiration to write Mass came back to February 14, 2018, the day of the Parkland school shooting.
“We’d been hearing about school shootings for 20 years, but I’d never had that kind of reaction. It was strange,” he says. Those thoughts then tuned to how he felt in 1999 during the shooting at Columbine High School.
“I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard about Columbine, looking around the campus, imagining the unimaginable,” Kranz says. “I was deeply troubled by Columbine because I’d been bullied myself. Being basically the same age as the shooters, I compared myself to them and the students and the victims and the whole community of that high school. It scared me.”
Mass explores the subject matter in a different way. The fictional story features two sets of parents who agree to meet and discuss the aftermath of a similar tragedy six years earlier. Jay and Gail (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton) are the parents of a deceased boy who was shot tragically during a similar school shooting. Richard and Linda (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) are the parents of the boy who did the shooting. The four are left in the room to talk things over and none of them really seems to know exactly what they all want out of the meeting.
Gail is nervous, barely keeping her anger under control despite her “I’m fine” comments over and over again. Jay, at first, seems to have his feelings in check. His way of healing after the event is to get involved with activism against gun violence.
On the other side of the table is Linda who is desperately wants to be understood but knows that she probably won’t be. She’s awkward and apologizes a lot. Her ex-husband keeps his feelings in check, acting cool and confident throughout the ordeal. He’s a proud man. At times he comes off as uncaring, but there is more underneath the surface.
Feeling more like a three-act play than a movie, Mass moves at a slow pace. The story is a bit of a mystery with pieces of truth handed out sparingly as it moves on. Each actor brings so much to the story. I highly suspect that this film will be nominated during the next award season. But it’s not just the acting that is good, it’s the dialogue that makes this story come alive. Nothing is trite. It is all raw. But even the ending, which offers a message of hope and healing, isn’t sappy.
Everything isn’t “fixed” in the end, but everyone leaves the table in a better state than they came. Mass is an intelligent, independent film that should be supported. With our current upside-down world where people all over are angry, shouting and wanting to be heard, it’s a film like this that reminds us that sometimes we need to listen as well.
Main Image: Bleeker Street
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