Starring: Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Laura Linney, Chloe Sevigny, Michael Chernus, Adepero Oduye
Directed By: Oren Moverman
Plot: Two couples (already connected through Gere and Coogan being brothers) meet for dinner to discuss something awful their children might have been involved in. One is a successful congresswman (Gere), the other a very jaded and sarcastic teacher (Coogan). Hilarity, sadly, does not ensue.
What Works: This is like if the film Carnage had a super dark reboot by Chris Nolan. Carnage mixed comedy with the serious topic, and The Dinner will have none of that. Yes, waiter? We will be having none of this comedy tonight. Thank you. The lack of comedy allows the acting in the film to soar. Coogan, Gere, Linney, and Hall are all fantastic. They have a lot to say, as this is a very dialogue heavy film that caters itself to being an actors showcase. These actors must be at the top of their game, or this film would be unwatchable. The dialogue here is really well written, even when the film itself is not. Very sharp, and dangerously barbed.
What Doesn’t Work: I totally respect Moverman as a director. I think The Messenger was a solid film. I think he got one hell of a performance out of Richard Gere and Kyra Sedwick in Time Out Of Mind. I think there are scenes in this film that work really well. Is he one of the best directors working? No, but he’s someone who very well could be on the cusp of greatness. He’s shown so much talent, that I feel bad that the majority of why I didn’t like this film is in the directorial choice to slam cut all the time, and throw us in time paradoxes from hell. This film is all over the place, with scenes abruptly switching to flashbacks, then flashing perhaps again to another place in time, and maybe back to the present. There’s a lot of time jumping, and every time it happens it feels like a slap in the face. I know he intended for this to be the effect, like it was a conversation being constantly interrupted, but from a viewer standpoint, it is incredibly jarring. Things happened without little explanation. Like, Chloe Sevigny was suddenly in the film, and I was like… who does she play? I had no idea she was in this. I wanted more setup and exposition on her character than I got, because the scene changed before I got the resolution I needed. I also have to say, as many people have discussed the moral dilemma presented by choices made in the film… I do believe the film somewhat glorifies this idea that these choices can be made because these characters are affluent. I believe that some of these characters made the choices they made because they’re affluent. They seem to address every possible outcome and idea other than the basic concept that they are so out of touch with life, as they eat an incredibly expensive dinner, that it’s possible they have no clue how to be human beings anymore. The film never seems to resolve this issue, and it becomes hard to find a “protagonist” or “hero”. Maybe that’s the point? I just think it makes for an even more divisive film.
Final Word: This film does feature four incredibly strong performances. I’m not sure any are the best of the year, nor are they career bests. Lets be honest and say Laura Linney, especially, is almost always firing on all cylinders. I honestly can’t think of a bad Laura Linney performance, even in bad Laura Linney movies. If you like these actors, and you like dialogue heavy films, you might like The Dinner. However, the direction of the film makes it almost impossible to enjoy, and the moral questions raised by the film will leave you divided.
Final Grade: C+