The Dinner is an entirely unpleasant film about a group of appalling people. The premise and subject matter is at first intriguing, then precipitously breaks down into a jumbled mess. Director/writer Oren Moverman (The Messenger, Love & Mercy) takes an all-star cast downhill into flames here. That's hugely disappointing and a waste of talent.
Two couples meet for dinner at an exclusive restaurant. Steve Coogan stars as Paul Loman, a condescending and acidic former teacher with mental health issues. His relatively normal wife is Claire (Laura Linney). Richard Gere co-stars as Paul's older brother, Stan Loman; a polished congressman running for governor. Stan has a trophy second wife in Kate (Rebecca Hall), a tart social climber. Paul is resentful of Stan, who has had to deal with his brother's erratic nature.
The brothers dislike each other and have remained apart. Their sons have not, growing up as best friends into truly despicable teenagers. The children's horrific crime is the reason for the fancy family reunion. All truths are laid bare as the couples are served an opulent, but grossly pretentious five course meal.
Moverman's editing decisions are primary to this film's failure. The mystery he's trying to establish never grips you because of constant cutaways from the actual dinner. Each part of the meal is introduced on screen. The pomposity of the event is supposed to exacerbate the confrontation between the characters. It never gels because the actors don't sit still. The cast moves around aimlessly, which then leads to long flashback scenes. Some are crucial to the back story, but the majority are bizarrely shot and floundering. The result is agonizing slow spells that drag the two hour runtime to a standstill.
The Dinner is sometimes narrated by Paul, who gets the lion's share of screen time. Steve Coogan is a fantastic actor, but Moveran's focus on Paul becomes dull and weary. This is purposely done to establish the character's grating nature. It gets old fast, adding weight to the drip slow pacing. The dynamics between the couples loses steam at the long awaited climax. I honestly had lost all interest in the film by then.
The Dinner has several subplots that are teased but never realized. It's as if the film took a giant bite of narrative and couldn't swallow after. This issue falls again on Moverman as the writer and director. There needed to be better choices made on what got screen time. Too many ingredients can spoil the soup. Moverman should have stuck to the juicy bits. The film would have been far more concise and entertaining.
The Dinner is based on a novel by Dutch author Herman Koch. It's been adapted for the screen twice before in Europe. It's understandable why the actors were drawn to their roles. These are repugnant character discussing a terrible event in an ostentatious setting. I'd bet the novel is a fascinating read. The Hollywood version is a poor translation. From The Orchard Pictures, The Dinner is excruciating to sit through.