The Dinner Review
The Dinner (2017) Film Review from the 16th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Oren Moverman, starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Adepero Oduye, Michael Chernus, Charlie Plummer, Joel Bissonnette, and Chloë Sevigny.
The Dinner gets the ground running as this family drama where the action lies in the characters’ strong dialogues as if you’re watching a family meeting go into a violent exchange of words. Written and directed by Oren Moverman, this adaptation of Herman Koch’s acclaimed novel falls into the psychological descent of family and what it takes to protect their loved ones. We have two couples meeting up for a lovely night out with food, drinks, and a sophisticated conversation. However, as the evening passes, they start to unravel their true natures slowly and slowly until everything is out in the open leaving a dangerous confrontation.
The Dinner mostly takes place at a high-end restaurant as Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) invites his brother Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) for some fine dining and a long chat. We see Paul as a former history teacher who drives the story as our narrator talking about how he despises his brother and everyone around him. The only one who keeps Paul grounded is his wife Claire, but her true nature unfolds as she becomes much more protective of her family.
We also get to learn about Stan, a high-ranking politician who is in the running as governor of his state with his second wife Katelyn on his side. During the film, it is revealed that the two couples are actually meeting because of a horrific crime that their two eldest sons commit. While talking about what should be done, it also brings out some terrible secrets and truths that change their relationships after the course is over. Problems arise and some interruptions start to bring up some painful memories of the past during their conversation at their dinner table.
The film exceeds in the performances by the cast, and neither one of them falters in their respective roles. Coogan is basically the one who carries much of the film as a voiceover for the first half as we get flashbacks about his mental illness. His state of mind and his family issues, including his brother gradually started to unravel without going deep into the cause of it, giving a mental realism to Paul’s evident hatred of the world.
Stan appears as more of an enemy to Paul and even to Claire. Claire becomes a wild card in this narrative until the very end when Laura Linney flips the role and becomes cunning and often times scary. The dynamic of this family is so complicated that as these dysfunctional folks start to uncover, it gets difficult to like any one of them. However, the actors do make their characters sensitive and having us choose between one side and the other without creating a subjective pattern.
The feature is set up into different chapters like that of a four-course meal. The most powerful scenes come off from the dinner table parts, which are brilliantly rational as the audience witnesses, this private family discussion. There will be times where we catch them at awkward and even their angriest moments as the night unfolds. Don’t expect to be a resolution since the people caught up in this are entangled in their own problems.
The problems with the film come from the usage of flashbacks and dropping some narrative methods like Paul’s voiceover without any clear reason. Even though the flashbacks do tend to help develop the characters’ relationships and their own dilemmas, most of the film ends up going into the more intense scenes at the dinner table. Most of the flashbacks show the two boys and their offensive demeanor, serving as the catalyst for the main characters meeting up. The flashback sequences between Paul and Stan don’t fit into the narrative and really unnecessary.
The biggest flaw for The Dinner comes from preserving the atmosphere. We always open up with the extravagant dishes being explained by the restaurant’s pompous host Dylan Heinz (Michael Chernus), getting some funny moments but that doesn’t feel right with the tone of the film. Even the close-up shots of the food and the musical score don’t fit in with the beat of the film. The film feels more like a profile of this troublesome family who believe they know what’s best for their children.
The Dinner doesn’t come out as a complete meal, but it is strikingly captivating to see. It’s dark, painful, unexpected, and hilarious at times as the film gets through some rough patches to observe this disturbing and oblique handling of family and consequences for protecting the people that we care about.
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