'The Dinner' Falls Short of Five Stars
Great films can be made around people talking over a meal, but The Dinner is not an especially scintillating conversation. It’s slow going while introducing three sets of thoroughly uninteresting people whose connections become more and more apparent over the course of a long evening as two of those three sets meet for dinner.
Directed by Oren Moverman
The cast is certainly promising. Richard Gere plays Stan Lohman, a congressman running for governor. He may be ahead in the polls but he’s nowhere with his brother. Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) is a history teacher whose sharp denunciations of modernity start to shade into misanthropy. He doesn’t want to accept Stan’s dinner invitation at a trendy five-star restaurant but his wife Claire (Laura Linney) insists. Stan arrives with his annoyed-looking and much younger wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), in tow.
“Well, we’re going to talk tonight,” Stan insists, setting up a promise of suspense (what’s actually on his mind?) whose denouement is long delayed by mumbling digressions and meandering flashbacks that finally loop into the main thread. Writer-director Oren Moverman (working from a novel by Herman Koch) eventually reveals that Paul is mentally ill; Paul and Claire’s insufferably entitled teenage son is a nasty piece of work who set a homeless woman on fire; Stan’s stepson is an imbecile who recorded the murder on his cellphone and posted it.
The slack pace takes the juice out of the point: Here are four privileged, pampered denizens of the upper middle class, three of them willing to offer any rationalization to protect their “good boys” from justice. The tension eventually comes from one parent’s argument for turning them in. It’s almost too late to save The Dinner, which is no comedy but has some mordantly funny moments, including a dead-on spoof of trendy restaurants with their ritualistic recitations of “drizzled with” and “polished off with” in reference to a few vegetable sticks.