The Dinner, 2017.
Directed by Oren Moverman.
Starring Steve Coogan, Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, and Charlie Plummer.
Two brothers, one a successful politician, the other a former teacher, and their respective wives, come together for a family conference over dinner in an expensive restaurant. The actions of their teenage children have been filmed and are on the internet. Now their parents have to decide what to do next.
On the face of it, The Dinner sounds like a re-run of Polanksi’s Carnage (2011), with two sets of parents facing the fact that their children are involved in something terrible. But you only have to scratch the surface of the latest from Oren Moverman to find that’s where the similarities begin and end. Carnage wasn’t one of its director’s best, but at least it had wit and interesting characters. Not so The Dinner.
Moverman is also behind the script, his adaptation of Herman Koch’s novel, about a dinner that Paul (Steve Coogan) tries his damnedest to get out of but eventually gives in to his wife Claire (Laura Linney). The sense of foreboding is there from the outset and it soon becomes apparent that he and politician brother Stanley (Richard Gere) don’t get on and the reason is more deep rooted than just good old fashioned sibling rivalry. The reason for the dinner takes time to emerge, but it centres on the two couples’ children, who have done something not just criminal but horrific. Worse still, one of them has actually filmed it and the footage has found its way onto the internet. What should they do? Should the politician give up his ambitions and turn in his son? Should they all agree to cover the whole thing up? And what, of course, would we do?
It has a cast that promises much, although the casting of Coogan in the lead comes as something of a surprise – as does his slightly strained American accent. But that’s because Brits are used to seeing him in a particular light and here he’s playing it absolutely straight. He does a decent job as the ex-teacher who doesn’t just resent his more successful brother, but who is also mentally damaged. It’s just the tip of the iceberg when he literally starts to beat himself up because he can’t remember somebody’s name: wife Claire suggests “Google it” and his response is “That’s cheating.” Out of the four, he’s the one most likely to get your sympathy vote, but that doesn’t make him sympathetic per se. In fact, none of them are, especially Linney as his wife who, while initially supportive and loving, reveals a heart of pure ice. And Rebecca Hall, as Gere’s wife, isn’t far behind her.
The opening scenes point towards a chamber piece with the four sat around the table, thrashing out the options. But, because the restaurant is set in an out of town mansion, there’s room for other backdrops. That in itself is not a problem, but when the storyline is stretched into flashbacks, not just showing what the teenagers did, but also moments from their parents’ pasts, the film starts to meander, dawdle and ends up feeling unstructured and all over the shop. There’s a lengthy sequence set at the Gettysburg battle site which is completely superfluous and, in itself, represents all that’s wrong with the film: it lacks focus, it’s overlong and it’s overworked.
The restaurant itself is the only light relief, with its monstrous regiment of waiters simultaneously serving each course with military precision. The staff are so over-attentive they immediately put their customers on edge and the food, while it might look attractive, sounds revolting. The flavour combinations are hideous. Would you really want to eat something garnished with “pumpernickel soil”? The whole place is self-indulgent. And The Dinner is completely at home.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.