DENVER — As a general rule of thumb, I like to go into a movie knowing as little as possible.
However, having lived in Colorado for several years and having spent countless hours covering tragedy, I cannot extend that same recommendation to Mass. This is a movie that requires emotional preparation on the part of the viewer. Mercifully, the movie earns that commitment.
Told with little flourish but much purpose, the film mostly takes place in a single, unremarkable room. Four people have gathered for a conversation that none are completely ready to have.
Two of the characters, played by Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, are the parents of a boy killed in a school shooting. The other two, portrayed by Reed Birney and Ann Dowd, are the parents of the shooter.
"It's such a rich, complicated script," said Birney in an interview with Denver7. "It's the kind I don't get very often. And so any hesitation or nervousness I had was supplanted by the idea that this was really, at the end of the day, a gift for us."
There are no weak links among the cast. Plimpton, the lone principle actor I didn't have the opportunity to interview, impressively reigns in the urge to go big. Isaacs, who's so good at playing haughty villains, is all raw nerve here.
"I walk in the room knowing that my wife is very messed up," Isaacs said. "And the therapist has suggested that we come here because she needs to do or say certain things because her life is paralyzed. It's, you know, it's statics can't move forward. But the audience knows something about me, which that's nonsense, I don't know myself. Then, the other couple, supposedly thinking they're going to help us but their life is in a certain place, and they also don't know about themselves. That's where the drama is."
Dowd somehow finds grace even in characters as cruel as The Handmaid Tale's Aunt Lydia. Here, she's cast as a woman with much to say, and few, rightly or wrongly, who want to hear it.
"What took over in its entirety was, we're here we can do this," Dowd said. "We can move through. It was a tremendous gift."
Dowd prepared for the part by reading a memoir by Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine High School gunmen. Fran Kranz, making his directorial debut after memorable performances in movies like Cabin in the Woods, said he became consumed with the subject of school shootings after the birth of his child.
"It was a surprise to a lot of friends and family," Kranz told Denver7. "It's not very indicative of who I am. I'm a light kind of guy who likes to have fun. Really, this came from, I think, mostly being now a parent and having to think about a lot of situations differently in the world. I did not believe I could forgive someone if they took a family member from me, if they took a loved one from me. And when I had a child and I started researching these events that just happen all too frequently, I had to confront these ideas and fears again, and that was really the genesis of the movie."
That Kranz spent years working on the script and trying to get it produced shows. The characters are fleshed out. The camerawork subtle and unobtrusive. If it feels a little long, it never lacks for purpose.
But well made as it is, Mass is not for everyone. The subject matter is so heavy, I personally found myself stalling to watch the screener. Once I hit play, though, I wished I had seen it in a theater instead. The movie works because you feel like you're in the room for the conversation. Any interruption feels like an intrusion. The movie wants you to listen, then follows with a compelling reason on why you should.
Mass is currently playing at Denver's Landmark Esquire Theater