The Dinner

 

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A promising menu served up in a way that is frequently disconcerting.

    

Dinner, The

Steve Coogan with Richard Gere

 

This well-acted film is never less than interesting but, even so, it should have been considerably better than it is. The Dinner is an adaptation by its director Oren Moverman of Herman Koch’s novel which dates from 2009. However, cinemagoers are likely to be reminded of Polanski’s 2011 movie Carnage based on Yasmina Reza’s stage play since both works focus on two married couples meeting to discuss the appropriate response to a violent act involving their children. There are, of course, differences: here the two fathers are brothers, Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), a congressman standing for governor, and Paul (Steve Coogan), a disillusioned man who has worked as a teacher. It’s also the case that in this instance the violence has been perpetrated on a homeless woman by the children of both siblings. Nevertheless, both works find the older generation at odds over what responsibility they have as parents and here the tensions are further aggravated by the attitudes of Stan’s wife (Rebecca Hall) and Paul’s wife (Laura Linney).

 

Both the title of this film and the echo of Carnage arouse expectations that are not met. In The Dinner the meeting takes place in a very posh restaurant, a fact that encourages us to sympathise with Paul’s scathing remarks about the rich set to which his brother belongs. However, the early promise of a detailed discussion of a situation that has yet to be revealed to us does suggest that in due course the drama will come to centre on their talk. But it doesn’t really do that. Instead we have clear but clumsily inserted flashbacks which over two hours show something of the past family history and reveal step by step just how bad the violent act had been.

 

Ultimately The Dinner will focus on an interesting moral question and it is probably fair enough that it leaves it to the audience to form their own view although the abrupt, inconclusive ending is rather disconcerting. In any case the waters have been muddied already by issues of sibling rivalry and by the fact that the family history includes mental illness. These elements confuse our response (early on we readily support Paul’s criticisms but this initial sympathy is undermined and, although the moral high ground is eventually taken by Stan, there are hints very late on that he may well retract). It’s also the case that Moverman’s film, being divided into sections named for the courses in the dinner, plays up this element inappropriately, especially in view of its distracting echoes of Michael Winterbottom’s TV series The Trip.

 

For too much of the time, this film seems cluttered rather than clear-sighted, but the cast is not to be faulted. Gere and Linney (despite the latter having one of the more substantial parts) do in fact have the less rewarding roles here. Hall, excellent as ever, has too little to do but has a truly blazing scene late on, while Coogan impresses in the most complex role. Yet, given the potential it possesses, The Dinner will, regardless of the acting talent on view, leave many viewers feeling that it has fallen short. Nevertheless, I was never for a moment bored by it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny, Adepero Oduye, Charlie Plummer, Miles J.Harvey, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Joel Bissonette, Michael Chernus.

 

Dir Oren Moverman, Pro Julia Lebedev, Lawrence Inglee, Caldecot Chubb and Eddie Vaisman, Screenplay Oren Moverman, from the novel by Herman Koch, Ph Bobby Bukowski, Pro Des Kelly McGehee, Ed Alex Hall, Costumes Catherine George.

 

ChubbCo Film/Blackbird/Code Red-Vertigo Releasing.
120 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 8 December 2017. Cert. 15.