Subject: The Dinner




The 2009 Dutch novel “The Dinner” by Herman Koch was adapted to the screen for a Dutch film in 2013, an Italian production in 2014 and now an American version in 2017.


Two brothers, Stan and Paul (Richard Gere and Steve Coogan) accompanied by their wives Catelyn and Claire (Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney) meet at a wildly elitist and expensive restaurant for dinner.  The reason for the gathering is that a video has surfaced of two boys committing an act of extreme violence on a homeless woman and filming the ghastly event.  The adopted brother of one of the perpetrators has posted the video online and thus far the identity of the boys remains unknown.  But not however to our four diners.  It is the respective eldest sons of both couples who have committed the heinous crime and the parents have met to discuss what they should do about the situation.


Oren Moverman has both written and directed this at times disturbing descent into the psychology of this family and while the dinner scenes are powerfully arresting and eminently watchable, a considerable number of flashbacks are used to prevent the production being too stagey.  While these exposition and explanatory moments are well handled, the prismatic story structure suffers from too many strands that feature in many different timelines.  We have the son’s barbaric action and the events leading up to it, running in conjunction with scenes from a decade earlier featuring Stan and his first wife (Chloe Sevigny) who died from cancer, adjacent to scenes of the brothers when younger visiting Gettysburg and then add recent examples of Paul’s mental problems such as a total meltdown in class while teaching history.


Admittedly, these flashbacks are vital to clarify the deeply flawed and damaged natures of the four principals.  Paul no longer teaches and has stubbornly refused to take his meds for months and his mental state is precarious.  Irascible, arch, inflammatory and abrasive in nature, he is a wild card when it comes to deciding whether to take the boys to the police and come clean or remain silent.  Both women, for different reasons, want to leave the matter buried.  Claire (whose mental state is also questionable) is a veritable lioness protecting her young and makes lies and excuses to justify her boy’s monstrous act.  Catelyn fears for their fate in prison at such a young age.  Stan is a successful and powerful politician running for Governor and ironically, as he has the most to lose from such a scandal, is the only one who strongly insists on coming clean and giving the boys up.


The restaurant scenes are wonderful.  A perfect Maitre’D commands teams of elegantly groomed staff who parade mouth-watering nouvelle cuisine dishes to the table with military precision.  Naturally, the cost of the food is in inverse proportion to the quantities on the plate.


There are traces of Polanski’s 2011 CARNAGE here.  Both productions are four-handers that bitingly look at the veneer of intellectual civility peeling away and unraveling the relationships.  Although the central theme of the boy’s actions burns at the core of the story, it also serves as a point of ignition for the tangled emotions that include mental illness, racism, affluence, society’s perceptions and the dynamics of family.


Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski has shot in a near expressionist style here with the combination of dark shadows and artificial light accelerating the sumptuousness in the restaurant while also hinting at the mental state of the main players.  And without doubt, the four principals are impeccable.  Moverman has pulled out all his usual tricks here and no rehearsals and secret camera locations help them deliver raw, authentic and compelling performances.


Say what you like about it — the acting here is top class.    




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