‘Mass’ reviews: Oscar contender highlighted by ‘raw power’ of screenplay and ‘remarkable’ cast

Mass” premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, and it was officially released by Bleecker Street on Friday, October 8, so audiences could finally experience the intimate drama. But is the Oscar contender worth the watch? Let’s take a look at some of the “Mass” reviews and what they might mean for the film’s awards hopes.

As of this writing “Mass” has a MetaCritic score of 79 based on 19 reviews counted thus far: 18 positive, one somewhat mixed, and none outright negative. Those predominantly positive notices are echoed on Rotten Tomatoes, where the film is rated 94% fresh based on 90 reviews. Rotten Tomatoes classifies reviews as simply positive or negative, as opposed to MetaCritic’s sliding scale from zero to 100, which means only five of those 90 Tomatometer reviews are rotten. The RT critics’ consensus says, “‘Mass’ requires a lot of its audience, but rewards that emotional labor with a raw look at grief that establishes writer-director Fran Kranz as a filmmaker of tremendous promise.”

The film tells the story of two sets of parents whose lives have been torn apart by a school shooting that involved both of their children, and critics say the film’s “balance of clashing perspectives” is “finely calibrated.” It “will linger in your head,” with Kranz able to “evoke impressive thought-provoking drama” even within the film’s limited confines: a church basement where the two couples hash it out. The first-time filmmaker’s script has “raw power,” and so does his “remarkable” cast: Ann Dowd, Reed Birney, Martha Plimpton, and Jason Isaacs.

As of the film’s opening day it was on the bubble for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, according to the combined predictions of thousands of Gold Derby users, but Dowd is already the favorite to win Best Supporting Actress for her turn, while Kranz’s original screenplay is a likely nominee as well. The academy has often gravitated towards emotional indie dramas about parenthood, including “The Descendants” (2011), “Room” (2015), “Manchester by the Sea” (2016), “Marriage Story” (2019), and “Minari” (2020) in recent years. And it never hurts to have a pedigreed cast including a couple of Emmy winners (Plimpton and Dowd), a Tony winner (Birney), and a BAFTA nominee (Isaacs).

What do you think of “Mass” and its Oscar chances? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans here in our forums.

Justin Chang (Los Angeles Times): “The balance of clashing perspectives and contradictory emotions is so finely calibrated throughout ‘Mass’ as to stir your admiration and your suspicion alike … There is some comfort to be gleaned within the cloistered silences of ‘Mass,’ but also an implacable sorrow for four people — and the countless grieving women and men they represent — who will never know safety again.”

Sabina Dana Plasse (Film Threat): “Fran Kranz’s debut feature-length dramatic film ‘Mass’ will linger in your head as you process its ability to provide solace in the face of atrocity. Perhaps the most defining quality it exudes is Kranz’s ability to evoke impressive thought-provoking drama within a bare environment of a table, chairs, and four people in an auxiliary church space … The direction and editing decisions add to the tension and emotion, which may have gotten lost in another medium, though.”

Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly): “There’s also raw power in his script — and the remarkable talents of his veteran cast: Isaacs’ furious Jay, desperate to find logic in studies and brain science; Birney’s self-contained Richard, who uses his calm businessman mien as a sort of battering ram; Dowd as Linda, a moony suburban earth-mother type who couldn’t be less like her Emmy-winning turn as the gleeful fascist Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale. And Plimpton’s raw-nerved Gail, who speaks the least but holds the screen every time she does.”

Alonso Duralde (The Wrap): “There are any number of great potential audition monologues in “Mass,” but the piece ultimately never comes together, mainly because Kranz wants to create a terse real-time encounter between emotionally shattered people, but he also wants a nice resolution at the end of the film … Kranz has a strong eye for casting and a definite talent for getting the best from his ensemble.”

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