Director/writer Oren Moverman serves up a wonderful menu of performers with his feature film, “The Dinner.” It starts with the always appetizing work of Rebecca Hall, continues with solid efforts by Richard Gere and Steve Coogan and tops off with the just desserts of another powerful acting job by Laura Linney.
With such ingredients, the only way Moverman could spoil this tale of a family divided by a horrific event is if he got in the way of letting the story unfold like a perfect seven-course meal. Sadly, more often than not, he gets in the way.
“The Dinner,” based on the novel by Herman Koch, takes place during an evening meal at a fancy restaurant. Paul Lohman (Coogan) and his politician brother, Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), who have had a strained relationship for years, agree to meet for dinner. They are joined by their wives, Claire (Linney), and Katelyn (Hall).
They have come together to discuss what actions to take regarding their sons. The young men have committed an unspeakable crime and the parents must decide whether to remain quiet and hope no one connects the boys to the incident or turn them over to authorities.
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Opinions are very different. The only thing the four agree on is that they can’t agree on anything. This leads to some emotional debates sparked by years of pain, frustration, jealousy and resentment. Each word is like a verbal dagger tossed at the heart of someone at the table. And, it’s interesting which character takes on the different arguments.
Hot-button issues being discussed by first-rate actors is enough to demand attention. Moverman could have planted the camera at the fifth place setting on the table and let it roll as the four jockey for verbal supremacy.
This is where the director gets in the way. Instead of feeling confident this superb cast could handle the raw emotions of these discussions, Moverman interrupts the flow by having the participants constantly coming and going from the table. They wander off to other rooms or outside while the story switches over the flashbacks.
Every single look into the past could have just as easily been handled through dialogue at the table. There’s nothing additional revealed watching Coogan’s character suffer a mental break or seeing that Stan had another wife before Katelyn came into the picture. It’s like sitting down to eat a great dessert but stopping every other bite to be shown pictures of the milk, eggs and sugar used in the baking process.
The strength of “The Dinner” comes from its central conflict about defining what is right. What appears to be the best solution from one vantage point becomes a clear and present danger when seen from another side. Those angles are perfectly shown around the table but keep getting broken as Moverman shows his insecurities as a director.
Moverman is lucky that he pulled together actors who are strong on their own but get even better when they get to work with others. Even when the conversations gets stopped for one of Moverman’s distracting moves, the actors manage to turn the heat back up under the story when they are brought back together.
Despite Moverman’s best efforts, “The Dinner” ends up being an enjoyable treat because of the efforts of the cast.