FILM REVIEW: THE DINNER (USA 2016) ***1/2

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the_dinner.jpgA look at how far parents will go to protect their children. Feature film based on a novel by Herman Koch.

Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: Oren Moverman (screenplay), Herman Koch (novel)
Stars: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan

Review by Gilbert Seah

 THE DINNER is basically a four handler psychological drama which shows how far parents will (or will not go) to protect their children. In THE DINNER, two family of parents sit down to a dinner at a posh restaurant to discuss the implications of their children who have killed a homeless woman by setting her on fire.

As appropriate for a film entitled THE DINNER, the film is told in four parts – aperitif, main course, dessert and digestif. The film also contains acute and often hilarious observations, lightening the film’s serious theme, of the posh restaurant. It is clear that director Oren is not fond of these hip establishments. Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) constantly hurls insults at the waiters and servers to the point of vulgarity. It is of great relief that at one point the maitre’d finally tells him off.

Director Moverman (THE MESSENGER, LOVE AND MERCY) is expert at getting the audience’s attention and creating drama at the dinner table. This is evident at the one hour mark of the film when all the hidden facts of the incident are slowly revealed. The key confrontation scene takes place in the Library section of the restaurant. It is really odd that the music is played quite obtrusively during the conversation. I am not sure whether this is done on purpose to up the ante during the segment because the music is really loud and annoying. It is certain that this kind of music is never played at any restaurant’s waiting area.

Steve Coogan ditches his British accent to play a sarcastic American teacher. The reason he was chosen for this film THE DINNER has likely something to do, though it does out really matter, being in the food/restaurant critic films THE TRIP and THE TRIP TO ITALY. Coogan, known to be sarcastic in real life, steals the show, managing to elicit a few laughs from his sarcastic remarks at the awkward dinner situation. It is surprising that he gets second billing to Richard Gere, likely because this is an American film and Americans might not know who Coogan is. Gere is quiet in the first half of the film, showing his true acting colours only after the second half. Laura Linney is as usual, very good as the mentally disturbed wife.

The film accurately touches the right chord on when human beings cannot come to an agreement and cannot no longer live with each other. This comes about, as the film demonstrates, when ones basic principles go against another’s. Stan wants his son to pay for his crime, his wife does not and neither does Paul’s wife Claire. It is clear that mothers will normally go all out to protect their children, particularly sons, while fathers are more inclined to teach their sons to do what is right.

Moverman manœuvres his film towards an exciting climax where no one can foresee who will do what at the end. The ending turns up quite a brilliant touch too (not to be revealed in the review).

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP26KWVw5jE

_________

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