On paper, Oren Moverman’s The Dinner, based on the novel by Dutch author Herman Koch, sounds similar to the 1981 chamber piece My Dinner with Andre, but with a darker twist. The intellectual wit of Andre isn’t present here, replaced instead with elements of thriller and drama.
The film traces a number of intersecting narratives, framed around a family dinner at an elite, pricey restaurant between Stan (Richard Gere), Paul (Steve Coogan), Claire (Laura Linney), and Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). The family dinner is an attempt to reconcile numerous family issues, though the most grounded one is Paul’s mental illness; Stan, a U.S. congressman running for Governor, spends most of the dinner trying to secure the passage of mental health legislation. Meanwhile, a video depicting Paul’s son, Michael, committing arson and killing a homeless woman, goes viral.
Director/writer Oren Moverman’s sense of temporality and stake is often unclear. The Dinner moves between moments with no clear or purposeful coherence. Though perhaps that is the primary effect: Moverman mobilizes the cinematic medium to counterbalance the didactic, dialogic nature of the film’s premise.
Much of the film’s success relies on its all-star cast. Gere is typically forgettable in his role as the aloof big brother politician, while Coogan, Linney, and Hall carve impressive performances out of different and difficult characters.
Appreciated best by patient audiences, The Dinner is dimly-lit to a fault and overly-long. Though not particularly memorable, Moverman’s film is a serviceable example of cinematic adaptation, and proof that a good cast can revitalize a sleepy screenplay.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile