Starring: Martha Plimpton, Jason Issacs, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney
Directed By Fran Kranz
Where I Watched it: Apple (VOD)
English Audio Description Available?: At least, not on this platform.
The Plot: So, I’m not going to tell you what this movie is about. It was something I hadn’t heard of, then Oscar season rolled around, a lot of critics I respect started talking about Mass, and basically all of them decided it’s best to discover this film yourself, and I agree. If you enter with your mind already headed in a direction, it can change the film and its impact. I will say that this is extremely minimalist and is highly conversational, featuring four people inn a room together… talking. And it’s a drama.
What Works: Fran Kranz wrote this? Wow. The direction is somewhat simplistic, and I’ll get more into that later, but what a screenplay. Oddly, it never feels scripted, and sits just like a real conversation between four people given the circumstances. Of course, that’s a testament to just how incredible these four actors are in each of their roles. Picking one is like a Sophie’s Choice, a rather impossible task that I know Bleeker Street is avoiding by submitting all four main characters in supporting. Of course, last year, Lakeith Stanfield was submitted as lead for Judas and the Black Messiah, and ended up getting nominated in supporting, meaning that neither “Judas” or “The Black Messiah” are leads in a film called Judas and the Black Messiah. So I suppose there is a precedent here for Mass.
However, if I’m being honest, this is the film the Oscars won’t nominate because their voting body sucks. I’m just going to say it now. Mass will be left out. Shut out. And to be quite honest, it’s fucking infuriating to even think about. Actors like Jason Issacs and Ann Dowd have toiled tirelessly in supporting roles in other Oscar nominated fare being left out. It’s time to recognize them and this is the film to do it. I remember when Dowd was getting so much love for Compliance, and then it didn’t happen for her. I just don’t trust the Academy.
So I dare the Oscar voters to prove me wrong and nominate this challenging, demanding, meditative, character study of a film that thrives in awkward silence almost being a fifth character in the film. Truly, these four actors never felt like they were actually acting. It was a conversation that felt entirely realistic, and often that’s hard to pull off, especially for a film with a runtime of close to two hours. I was captivated by their every choice, every decision, every line delivery. The screenplay is a tough one, but one that any actor worth a damn would want to dive headfirst into.
While I cannot say that Mass as a film is perfect, the performances here are. The dialogue given to them is awards worthy writing, and ultimately I think somehow this film makes us all better people for having seen it. It does not heavy handedly push you around with some ulterior motive, it just wants you to accept these characters for who they are, and just sit in the moment with them.
It might be the most important film I saw from 2021, and I’m dam glad I paid 6 bucks to rent this, even though it has no audio description.
What Doesn’t Work: So, Kranz knew that at the core of this film, it’s essentially four people in a room. And in an effort to make his fil more interesting, he expands on that rather unnecessarily. There are only eight credited actors on IMDB, and the other four really offer next to nothing. There’s like a leader into the film, and a lead out. I would say that the majority of the leader ends up feeling like filler. However, the ending starts to feel that way, then Kranz drops one last tidbit that makes it necessary and relevant.
My advice to Kranz would have been not to be afraid of how minimalist his film actually is, as the power resides in that one room, and with his four leads, and his misguided desire to somehow make this more accessible for wider audiences with short attention spans, or make it feel more grand and cinematic just were mostly unnecessary. This film easily could have been 5-10 minutes shorter by cutting a lot of the lead in out, and trusting that the meat of your film was intact, and enough.
The Blind Perspective: After hearing so many positive things, I had to see this even knowing that they chose not to offer audio description. I’m not sorry I did. While I believe that every fil should have AD, this movie would have needed to parse the AD back because there are moments where you are supposed to sit in the silence in the conversation. Usually, that’s where we fill in with the description, though in many cases it could have taken the audience out of what was happening. Yes, there needed to be AD, but very specific AD, and not overdone.
Final Thoughts: I’m really glad I saw this, and I know when Oscar nominations come, I’ll be breaking my television after never hearing the word “Mass”. If you’re an Oscar voter, and you have a ballot, and you can vote for any one of these actors, and you choose to leave all four off your ballot, let me just preemptively say… fuck you. I know the Oscars are going to snub the shit out of this film, and some other less deserving performances will sneak in. Watch Mass.
For the record. I figured out what this movie was about before I watched it. I never saw a trailer, and I got a very log line type of description for this film, and I still figured it out. Kranz tries to be sneaky, but I guessed correctly.
Final Grade: A- (Only because this film needs editing, and to trust that those four actors are enough).