Director: Oren Moverman
Screenwriter: Oren Moverman, based on Herman Koch’s eponymous novel.
Runtime: 120 mins.
Australian release date: 7 September 2017
Previewed at: Verona Cinema, Paddington, Sydney, on 7 September 2017.
The Dinner, written and directed by Oren Moverman, poses the question, ‘what would one do versus what should one do if a family member has committed a crime and there are no witnesses?’ This is the dilemma that faces a pair of affluent, middle-class couples as they confront a life-changing decision that will affect not just their own lives but also their children’s. It raises questions of morality, decency and principles and challenges issues relating to unconditional love - how far should a parent go to protect a child? The film is based on Dutch author Herman Koch’s 2009 million-selling novel Het diner, which was previously filmed in The Netherlands in 2013.
Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is a busy Congressman in the middle of trying to get the numbers for a bill to have mental health costs covered by the government while simultaneously campaigning for Governor. On the night before the bill is to be debated, he invites his second wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), his estranged brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and Paul’s wife Claire (Laura Linney) to a highly exclusive restaurant to discuss a serious family problem. During the evening, we learn that there has always been a rift between the two brothers and that Paul suffers from a health condition that requires medication to control his moods. He was a history teacher who simply gave up (from seeing the world through a constant haze of negativity) and who’s obsessed with the Battle of Gettysburg. That vicious encounter claimed the largest number of casualties in the entire American Civil War and could serve as a metaphor for the constant battle that seems to rage inside Paul’s head.
As the evening progresses, the fractious couples drag up old wounds, question each other’s morals and generally behave abominably, treating the restaurant staff dismissively. Stan and Paul’s poisonous relationship is further exposed and is juxtaposed with Claire and Katelyn’s - who at least attempt to show respect for each another, albeit perfunctorily; however, the real crux of the story emerges by intercutting the foursome’s back-story and the horrific act that’s occurred with their unfolding catastrophic dinner party.
Although uncomfortable viewing, The Dinner is a very fine piece of drama and the leads are uniformly brilliant: we’ve not seen Coogan like this before, portraying a troubled, insecure soul, and he handles the American accent well; Gere has taken on this Teflon-skinned kind of character previously and always does it convincingly; Linney is chilling as the lioness willing to go to any lengths to protect her family; and Hall plays Katelyn with conviction as she attempts to negotiate the rocky path to a solution to the problem. The dialogue goes to unexpected places and the protagonists keep you guessing as to how they will act; as the sumptuous meal progresses their professed principles are put to the test – and not everyone will pass. The Dinner provides four courses of food for thought!