The Dinner

Studio: The Orchard
Directed by Oren Moverman

May 05, 2017 Web Exclusive
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The response you have to The Dinner is comparable to the one you have when you don’t like someone and you’re not quite sure why. On the face of it, everything is lined up for this adaptation of the international bestselling book Het Diner by Dutch author Herman Koch. The premise is intriguing enough - two estranged brothers agree to go to dinner with their wives to confront the matter of a violent crime committed by their sons. One brother, Stan Lohman, played with that particular sensitive arrogance of Richard Gere, is a prominent public figure, a congressman running for governor who needs to reconcile his political ambitions with his conscience. The other brother, Paul, is a figure who has shrunken from society, an ignored history teacher whose snare-tight manifestations of his asperger’s-like mental condition is right in the wheelhouse for Steve Coogan. Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney play their respective wives and perfectly occupy their vessels of cynical disaffection, completing the circle of self absorption.

The casting is spot on, especially with the call for Coogan to frolic in the idiosyncrasies of unwillingness, and the story is compelling enough for two translations of the book and two other film adaptations, but the progression in this version suffers from an apparent obligation to the integrity of the book. Writer and Director Oren Moverman continuously stumbles over filling in the backstory to heighten the exigency of the occasion, when all the drama needed is built into the tense dynamic of the evening. This stands to reason as Moverman, who originally had the sole task of adapting the novel into a screenplay, only stepped into direct when Cate Blanchett backed out of what would have been her directorial debut. The dilemmas presented by balancing dual roles is shown in the interruption of rhythm between players, which also takes the filmic shape of the all-in-one host/sommelier/server Dylan (Michael Chernus) with his grandiloquent course descriptions and the incredibly annoying appearances of Nina (Adepero Oduye), Stan’s political aid who can’t respect privacy.

The camera can’t sit still long enough for the anticipated psychological sparring of egos to develop. Brief moments when the two couples are seated all together flash a potential kineticism, yet by the time they get to the heart of the matter, you're annoyed that it took so long, much like when waiting for the main course at a busy restaurant.

If The Dinner had been contained to the food snob circus of the mansion turned restaurant that is its central setting, the tension over conflicting opinions of how to resolve a family matter with harmful implications for all, might have sustained the film on its own. Add in the inferred tensions from not having sex, and not being straightforward and not being able to communicate with family and not having time or patience for anything anymore and there you have all the ingredients for something rich and complex. There too would have been more opportunity to use the spice provided by Paul’s hilarious exchanges with host Dylan, which recall the funniest moments from Coogan in the uproarious food mockumentary The Trip. As it played out, this adaptation is clouded by a menu with too many choices.

Author rating: 4/10

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