November 10, 2021 – This emotionally powerful film, releasing the anger and sorrow bottled up in two couples involved in a terrible tragedy, looks like it was adapted from a one-act play, but is, instead, an entirely original film.
Writer-director Fran Kranz has shown the world that he is a force to be reckoned with on the wings of this tour de force of a movie about mass murder and two couples dealing with the aftermath. The power of this film is mainly in the brilliant screenplay, but the acting is also superb.
Jason Isaacs of “Hotel Mumbai” plays Jay, husband of Gail (played by Martha Plimpton of “Beautiful Girls”). They are the parents of Evan, who was murdered, along with nine others in a high school shooting and bombing. The other parents, Richard and Linda, are played by Reed Birney of “The Hunt” and Ann Dowd of “Compliance.” Richard and Linda's son, Hayden, a fellow student, killed himself, along with Evan and the others, at school.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this story could easily slipped into a divisive screed about the politics of gun control. Instead, Kranz steers the discussion into a more emotional, and universal, story about sorrow, anger, and the search for answers, as well as the search for someone, or something, to blame. It seems very realistic and believable.
This increasingly heated discussion ranges from a blame game to a contest of who feels more aggrieved, to attempts to inflict emotional pain on each other. Eventually, this increasingly intimate and revealing discussion becomes more about truth and understanding. All four of these people turn out to be more alike than they thought they were at the beginning of this discussion.
The vast majority of the film takes place in a small room in an Episcopal Church, occupied only by these two couples, these four people, but there are a few other scenes involving other characters in the church and another scene in a car outside of town. Just when the movie appeared to be over, there is one more emotional scene in which Linda makes a startling revelation about Hayden.
This final story told by Linda puts a new spin on Richard's repeated denials about the lack of warning signs prior to Hayden's murderous attack at school, but there are no easy answers to the question of why Hayden killed Evan, himself, and the others. If Richard and Linda were bad parents, it would be easy to blame them, but while they are not perfect parents, they're far from bad.
Ann Dowd gives the best performance in the film. Her face is very expressive, revealing depths of pain and sorrow. Reed Birney, who plays her husband, also gives a fine performance as a man who is intelligent, rational and eloquent, keeping his emotions in check for the most part. Birney lets just enough emotion show through in his face and voice to reveal Richard's inner feelings. Both Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, playing the aggrieved parents, also give excellent performances as they demonstrate a roller coaster of emotions.
It is easy to see why this film was the toast of the film festival circuit. It was not widely released, which is a pity, because it deserves play in venues which would expose it to a larger audience. This is a very powerful film, one of the year's best. It rates a B+.
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