Film Review: The Dinner

A dinner outing at a posh restaurant for two brothers and their wives turns ugly as conversations and flashbacks unfold over their pretentious meal and reveal a shocking event that will change lives.
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Solid work and gripping drama are expected and again delivered with writer-director Oren Moverman’s latest, The Dinner. (He previously co-wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated The Messenger, and co-wrote the acclaimed Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy.) Moverman’s new film is a nasty, if all too honest, take on family dynamics and self-preservation as bad behavior, paranoia and desperation come to the fore from aperitifs all the way to digestifs (the handful of courses serve as chapters) and an explosive ending. Audiences with discerning appetites for both film and food will hail this dramatically delicious, bitterly seasoned cinematic meal.

Guests at the dinner planned by rising, take-charge politician Stan Lohman (a superb Richard Gere) for a very serious family matter include his estranged, hostile younger brother Paul (Steve Coogan, as convincingly middle-class American as he is embittered, messed-up sibling); Paul’s tough, conniving spouse Claire Lohman (Laura Linney, excellent even playing downmarket), and Kate (a cool and stunning Rebecca Hall), Stan’s trophy wife.

Fierce ambition, love of power and perverse devotion to one’s own brood drive the action as The Dinner takes us through multiple, initially complicated courses of intrigue that will ultimately spoil the appetites of the morally sensitive.

The plot is initially scattershot, beginning with a bunch of high-schoolers at a wild party. It soon settles into the fancy eatery, the primary setting and launch pad from which so much follows. Besides beautiful younger wife Kate, Stan, a well-regarded congressman making a bid for governor, has in tow his loyal assistant Nina (a fine Aderpero Oduye), who waits in the restaurant lobby while he conducts his table business with family. He is sometimes interrupted by Heinz (a funny Michael Chernus), the fawning maître d’ who knows an important customer when he sees him and also knows how to rattle off the minutiae of fine dining and wining without irony, considering the far-from-fine reason behind the meal.

Even before they are all seated, Stan lets it be known to Paul, an unrepentant pain in the ass, that the two couples will have something important to discuss. All’s quiet on the dinner front as the meal begins, but soon the film diverts to innumerable flashbacks that flesh out the many characters and introduce new ones who will figure in the horrible events necessitating the gathering.

Emerging with more clarity are Stan and Paul’s 16-year-old sons and best pals Michael (Charlie Plummer) and Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), respectively, who are also seen as youngsters almost a decade earlier but have emerged the teen perps in an unfathomable crime, and Stan’s first wife Barbara (Chloë Sevigny), mother of Michael but apparently dumped for the younger Kate. Also among the Lohman kids is Stan’s and now Kate’s adopted black son Beau (Miles J. Harvey), a year younger than Michael and Rick, who, knowing and having seen too much, might hold the winning card in what becomes the familial poker game of professional, even personal, survival.

A few years back, Film Movement released another excellent film adaptation of Herman Koch’s novel, by Italy’s Ivano de Matteo, which rendered the many details and time shifts more smoothly. But Moverman’s iteration of the same material, like a puzzle with many pieces flung at the outset, results in a more surprising denouement—for reasons most unexpected.

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