In a chic, exclusive restaurant, two seemingly successful couples are having dinner: Paul and Claire Lohman (Steve Coogan and Laura Linney) and Paul's politician brother Stan and his wife Katelyn (Richard Gere and Rebecca Hall). As the evening and each course progresses, their cracks as individuals begin to show and a dark secret about their children (Charlie Plummer, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) emerges. Now they must make the most difficult decision of their lives: do they do what's right or protect their children?
Review by Louise Keller:
Primal instincts are pitted against the niceties of dinner etiquette in this savage relationship drama that dishes out morality on a platter. Adapted from Herman Koch's international bestseller, Oren Moverman's film is structured around the initially outwardly civil meeting between two couples. It's a potent film that canvasses many issues but begins with one: how far will someone go to protect his loved ones? Like Roman Polanski's biting four-hander Carnage (2011), as the veneer of the characters begins to peel away, the unraveling of the relationships begins.
The story centers on Steve Coogan's former history teacher Paul Lohman, an uptight, broken man who sees himself as a loser: a failure of a father and inadequate husband to his capable wife Claire (Laura Linney). The Battle of Gettysburg ('the beginning of the end') is his obsession - and his metaphor for life. But even more importantly, he feels inconsequential when it comes to his successful politician brother Stan (Richard Gere), who he sees as 'elitist and self serving'. He is clearly not looking forward to the dinner, which takes place at an elitist restaurant you need to call three months prior and where the elegantly groomed staff parade to the table with military precision carrying plates decorated by morsels of food. These cater to aesthetics, not necessarily hunger. The interactions prior to their arrival show there is hostility between Stan and his trophy wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall).
While the main game involves a heinous event involving their children, the film canvasses many different themes involving family, mental illness, racism, affluence and society's perceptions. Moverman uses flashback sequences throughout to reveal past events, so that by the time the four characters have bared their souls, we understand the context. There is much that can be said about all the relationships and the nuances involved as truths and deceptions are exposed, but they are most powerful if discovered in the course of seeing the film.
The cast is superb and the vehemence of all the characters is often confronting. Explosive and devastating, this dinner is one you will remember for many reasons, including the way we are allowed to become the judge of our own morality.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
What's for dinner? America, served with sauce de human nature, flavoured with prickly Paul (Steve Coogan) and a platter of guilt. It's a rich dish, no pun about Stan's (Richard Gere) high flying success as a politician intended. Paul and Stan are brothers, but only officially. If not opposites, they are certainly different, and not happily so. But then Paul suffers from unsteady mental health ...His wife Claire (Laura Linney) is his anchor, a strong willed woman and immovable defender of her son Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). Stan's new, younger wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), also supports her husband, perhaps too much so. It's not a relaxed dinner.
This, the third adaptation of Herman Koch's novel, rips off the niceties and plunges its metaphorical microscope into heart of the human condition, using the scalpel of guilt.
The casually committed crime that is at once shocking and fateful burns at the centre of the story, but it is only the point of ignition for all the criss-crossed emotions that sweep through the film and across the lives of the characters like the winds of a storm.
Complex in subject and complex in execution, the film is put together like a misassembled jigsaw puzzle, a reflection of not only Paul's state of mind, but the state of the world. Slightly unhinged and swaying dangerously.
All the performances are astonishing, from the two youngsters who start the all consuming fire of guilt to the four parents, to Stan's PA, Nina (Adepero Oduye), to Chloe Sevigny as Barbara, Stan's first wife and Michael Chernus as the Maitre d' at the upmarket restaurant where the food served is spoken of in sacred terms. Oren Moverman's method of working with no rehearsal, secretive camera locations and edgy direction help the cast deliver raw, immediate performances.
Using every available cinematic tool from carefully planned colour palettes to an extensive, iconoclastic soundtrack and a discordant editing mantra, Moverman lives up to his name as a mover-man, moving us around time and moving our emotions. If you have read the book (I haven't) and the film is faithful to it, the ending will come as no surprise. If you haven't, be prepared to be challenged. This is an outstanding piece of cinema, provocative and insightful, filled with metaphor and the recognisable flaws of humanity and the world today, yet far from bitter.
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DINNER, THE (M)
CAST: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloe Sevigny, Charlie Plummer, Adepero Oduye, Michael Chernus
PRODUCER: Caldecot Chubb, Lawrence Inglee, Julia Lebedev, Eddie Vaisman
DIRECTOR: Oren Moverman
SCRIPT: Oren Moverman (novel by Herman Koch)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bobby Bukowski
EDITOR: Alex Hall
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kelly McGehee
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 7, 2017