The Dinner – movie review

by James Robins / 12 August, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - The dinner

Paul (Steve Coogan) and Stan (Richard Gere) in The Dinner.

A drama of in-laws debating whether to dob in errant sons makes a meal of it.

At the heart of The Dinner is a knotty moral conundrum. Two teenagers have done something terrible to a homeless woman. One is the son of modest middle-class couple Paul (Steve Coogan) and Claire (Laura Linney). The father of the other boy is Paul’s brother Stan (Richard Gere), a silver-haired congressman in the middle of an election campaign for governor, who is married to the glamorous Katelyn (Rebecca Hall).

The couples meet at a restaurant to discuss how to deal with their wayward, potentially criminal kids. Protect them? Or turn them in?

A parley under similar circumstances was at the heart of Roman Polanski’s Carnage – a taut four-way tangle in which the veneer of civility quickly slipped as the parents battled their respective corners, the audience’s allegiance shifting with each new revelation. If only The Dinner had been as efficient and clever. Instead, it’s a mess, with the participants constantly getting up from the table, knocking over wine glasses and being rude to the maître d’.

Unfocused and wayward, the film dips into inert flashbacks and long digressions, including a complete retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg. There is the suggestion that this odd tangent is supposed to illustrate Paul’s agitated, obsessive mental state, but mostly it feels incongruous.

Director Oren Moverman packs his adaptation of Herman Koch’s novel with clichés and actorly shouting matches resolved with mock platitudes. And the conjecture about Stan’s adopted black son veers uncomfortably close to racism. One can only dream about what such writers as Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet might have done with the material.

Worst of all, the tension is never wound tight enough. So when the final reveal comes, it’s nowhere near as explosive as it ought to be. I’d advise leaving before the aperitif.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★1/2

This article was first published in the August 12, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

How to lose weight without a diet
87141 2018-02-25 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How to lose weight without a diet

by Jennifer Bowden

"The irony is the intentional pursuit of weight loss – dieting, in other words – is actually a predictor of future weight gain."

Read more
Baby boomers are rethinking retirement for a later-life reboot
87313 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z Social issues

Baby boomers are rethinking retirement for a later…

by Sally Blundell

The biggest cohort of baby boomers is reaching retirement age – and many are not planning a quiet dotage.

Read more
School shootings and Russian indictments
87455 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z World

School shootings and Russian indictments

by Joanne Black

Slaughter in a school and Russian social-media mischief: the US is under siege.

Read more
Beck to go back to basics at Auckland City Limits
87417 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z Profiles

Beck to go back to basics at Auckland City Limits

by James Belfield

Before headlining Auckland City Limits, Beck talks about celebrating his musical past on stage and on record.

Read more
Islands of the Gulf: How the Hauraki has changed
87427 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z Television

Islands of the Gulf: How the Hauraki has changed

by Fiona Rae

A broadcaster revisits her mother’s iconic Islands of the Gulf TV series to see what’s changed since the 60s.

Read more
Hokianga's Wild West fest's unusual way of fundraising
86388 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Hokianga's Wild West fest's unusual way of fundrai…

by Peter De Graaf

Once a year, the Wild West saddles up and rides into Waimamaku for a day of highway robbery.

Read more
Back on track: $60m to go into regional rail
87519 2018-02-23 14:43:30Z Economy

Back on track: $60m to go into regional rail

by Jane Patterson

Five regions will receive just over $60 million for rebooting rail in the first chunk of money from the Provincial Growth Fund.

Read more
Ricky Houghton is about finding innovative solutions to the issues facing Māori
87510 2018-02-23 14:21:31Z Profiles

Ricky Houghton is about finding innovative solutio…

by Clare de Lore

No government on their own can fix the problems facing Māori in the Far North, warns Local Hero of the Year Ricky Houghton.

Read more