Adapted from Dutch writer Herman Koch’s 2009 bestselling novel, this will mark the third time his book has jumped onto the big screen, this time sans subtitles, as Oren Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger) directs the American version of this immorality tale. Primarily set over the course of a meal at an insufferably chic restaurant, The Dinner simmers with a portentous and disconcerting tone.
Paul (Coogan) and Stan (Gere) are brothers who have gathered at a posh restaurant for the titular meal with their wives. Stan is a powerful and wealthy congressman with big political aspirations and a trophy second wife Katelyn (Hall). Paul is an unstable and cynical ex-history teacher whose wife Claire (Linney) is a survivor of lung cancer. Paul resents what he sees as Stan’s vulgar superficiality, making fun of the absurdist postmodern dishes that are being trotted out through the evening (the film is broken up into courses, from aperitif to digestif). But the reason they have gathered concerns their respective sons, who, after getting wasted at a party one night, end up killing a homeless woman. Grainy video footage of the killing has made it onto the internet somehow, and now the two couples must decide how far they will go to protect their children. As it turns out, pretty far, as each character eventually unveils themselves to be incredibly unsympathetic.
It’s a dark brew, and Moverman sustains a mood of increasing tension for most of the film, but a few too many times we are flung back into another fractured, revelation-seeking flashback, and the tautness that was building deflates. The quartet of actors are all high-caliber pros, and the performances are marvelous, especially Linney, whose Claire hides depths of self-deception. The film covers a lot of territory: ethics, class, mental illness, the violence of modern society, how our behavior affects our loved ones. An impressively ambitious film that only stumbles into moralizing as it hits the suitably black finish line, The Dinner is an engrossing and enjoyably uncomfortable meal.
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