By Laurie Coker
Writer-director Oren Moverman’s The Dinner starring Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall and Richard Gere starts nowhere and ends in precisely the same place. Touted as a drama, mystery, suspense film, it is none of the above. Instead, it is a dark, muddled mess of nonsense and dysfunction. Based on what is said to be a page-turning novel of the same name by Herman Koch’s, Moverman’s adaptation is more a snooze-fest. Too bad for these A-list actors, that Moverman doesn’t deliver.
Coogan and Linney play a couple, Paul and Claire Lohman, whose son is best friends with the son of Paul’s estranged brother, Stan (Gere). Stan, a congressman with high aspirations, sets up a dinner for himself, Claire and Paul and his much younger wife, Katelyn (Hall), to discuss a horrific incident involving the boys. Michael (Charlie Plummer) and Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) both 16 take part in an unspeakable crime, witnessed by Stan’s adopted (African-American) son, Beau (Miles J. Harvey) and videotaped by the boys.
Dinner takes place at a ridiculously lavish restaurant, where food has fancy names, multiple courses, tiny portions and a too attentive staff. The gathering is meant to be the connecting factor where the embittered brothers and their spouses can discuss whether or not to draw attention to a crime not yet attributed to their sons and may never be and what, if anything, to do about it. During the meal we learn that Paul suffers from mental illness that Claire nearly died of lung cancer, Stan is running for higher office and Katelyn is the former intern, now wife who cares deeply for his children. Course after course of food arrives and plates leave, but it is not until dessert is declined and the audience is subjected to a barrage of confusing and convoluted flashback that the subject is broached.
Paul is the story’s focal point, if there is one, he and the underlying tension in the room and between couples drive the story. Coogan does a superb, highly uncharacteristic job as the brooding, badly broken brother, but because we are used to his comedic side, it is awkward watching him – painfully so at times. Gere, Linney and Hall, each play their part exceptionally, but even so, misplaced voiceovers, a terrible soundtrack, bizarre editing and time leaps make the whole affair unnecessarily baffling and complex.
Tension simply does not exist in The Dinner. Characters leave the table too often to allow for strain or momentum to build, flashbacks are extremely bewildering allowing for only snippets of valuable information and no character warrants compassion of care from viewers. Making matters worse is the film’s ambiguous and unsatisfying finale. The Dinner deserves a D – maybe even lower – in the grade book. Moverman’s is the third effort bringing Koch’s novel to the screen. I recommend looking for the Italian or Dutch version instead.