Posts Tagged ‘Martha Plimpton’

Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimptgon

“MASS” My rating: B+ (AMC Town Center)

110 minutes | MPAA: PG-13

There’s no way “Mass” should work.

Or even if it works, the very premise sounds so unbearable that only masochists would show up for it.

But here’s the thing: Fran Kranz’s feature writing/directing debut (up to now I’ve know him only as the actor who nailed the comically stoned Marty in 2011’s “Cabin in the Woods”) is not only supernaturally well-written, but offers performances of jaw-dropping depth.

The squirm-worthy setup: Two couples meet in a nondescript church parlor to discuss a tragedy more than a decade old. One pair are mourning the death of their son in a school mass shooting. The other are the parents of the killer. This is the first time they’ve spoken to each other without the presence of cameras and reporters and lawyers.

The film’s first 20 minutes are a tease of sorts. Kranz devotes much time to the efforts of two church volunteers (Breeda Wool, Kagen Albright) to prepare a space for the meeting. A rep (Michelle N. Carter) of an agency that deals with this sort of reconciliation makes an inspection and offers suggestions (she’s concerned that the sound of a choir practice elsewhere in the building may drift into the room; also, a table full of refreshments makes it look too much like a party).

We meet the first couple, Jay and Gail (Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton), sitting in their car outside. They’re not sure they can go through with this.

At this point in the proceeding we’re not sure if they’re the parents of the killer or of one of his victims: in fact, that uncertainty lingers for several minutes after the arrival of the other couple, Linda and Richard (Ann Dowd, Reed Birney). It takes some uncomfortable small talk before they get down to discussing what haunts them all and we figure out who’s who.

Over the course of 90 real-time minutes they move from wary politeness to bitterness, fury, regret and eventually a sort of mutual conciliation borne of shared pain.

For while Jay and Gail finally have the opportunity to rail at Linda and Richard for ignoring the signals that their loner son was homicidal, it becomes clear that far from being neglectful, Linda and Richard watched their boy, got him therapy, and were relieved when it appeared (falsely) that he had finally found his place in high school society.

Ann Dowd, Reed Birney

And in the wake of all that horror, Linda and Richard have been dunned with lawsuits, hounded by the media. Their marriage has fallen apart. They’re so sorry, but don’t know what else they might have done.

A lesser writer than Kranz would have penned all sorts of declarative passages to delineate where these characters are coming from. Not here. We pick up most of the details of that tragic day and its aftermath tangentially, assembling a big picture from small reveals.

Watching this all unfold on a single set, one assumes “Mass” is an adaptation of stage play. Nope. Kranz wrote it for the screen. But even then he doesn’t gussie things up cinematically. His camera is mostly stationary (a couple of pans between speakers), there’s no musical track to speak of…the emphasis is on the characters.

And, Holy Shit, do his four lead players come through.

Isaacs nails the American male who nurses his pain within a shell of outward masculinity (you’d never know he was a Brit); Plimpton brilliantly traverses her character’s journey from resentment to generosity.

But the show is stolen by Dowd and Birney as the parents of the killer. Dowd will forever be known as one of the great villains for her turn as the tormenting Aunt Lydia on “The Handmaid’s Tale”; here she is devastating as Linda, pathetic in her attempts to please and crippled by grief and guilt.

And Birney (the least known of the four major players despite a Tony, an Obie and 45 years as one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors) damn near steals the show as Richard, a white-collar conservative (he shows up in suit and tie) whom many will initially see as perennially in denial. But just wait; before it’s all over Richard will reveal anguish to match that of anyone else.

Hard to believe this Kranz’s first turn behind the camera. I’m dying to see what he gives us next.

|Robert W. Butler

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