The Dinner

Eating is the least important aspect of The Dinner, an uneven but intriguing drama that includes plenty of dirty laundry and family dysfunction on its menu.

As two couples gather at a posh restaurant to renew acquaintances under difficult circumstances, the encounter is tense from the get-go, and even more so as details are gradually revealed, both about the characters at the table and the meaty main course that has them at odds.

Specifically, Stan (Richard Gere) is a congressman running for governor, a move that his younger wife (Rebecca Hall) views as an opportunity to climb the social ladder. Things aren’t going nearly as smoothly for Stan’s estranged brother, Paul (Steve Coogan), who isn’t getting much support from his wife (Laura Linney) in his misguided efforts to connect with their rebellious teenage son, Michael (Charlie Plummer).

A scandal threatens the campaign when video surfaces online of Michael committing a violent crime, causing the family to contemplate a cover-up strategy under the rationale of protecting him.

The screenplay by director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) is based on a book by Dutch novelist Herman Koch, and makes plenty of changes to the source material — both geographically and thematically — to reflect issues ranging from parental responsibility, to socioeconomic class, to sibling rivalry, to mental illness, to wealth and privilege.

While the dialogue is taut, the performances tend to outshine the material, which struggles in the translation from page to screen. Moverman tries to spice up the action with abundant flashbacks and cynical narration, although such a structure too often stalls the narrative momentum. With most of its action confined to a single setting, perhaps The Dinner would be more impactful on stage.

These are deeply flawed yet fascinating characters for whom it’s generally difficult to sympathize. However, as the story veers in unexpected directions and confronts its moral complexities head-on, the actors add depth amid the bickering and posturing — sometimes in lighthearted ways.

Coogan provides some deadpan laughs with his character’s sardonic misanthropy, which masks inner turmoil and lingering hostility. The film as a whole offers some comic relief as it pokes fun at pretentious eateries.

The messy result is nevertheless relevant and provocative. It’s the kind of film that could generate plenty of dinner-table conversation afterward, which hopefully will be more comfortable by comparison.


Rated R, 120 minutes.