STARS: Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, Chloe Sevigny
DIRECTOR: Oren Moverman
You think your kids are monsters? Well, where do you think that comes from? Here's a hint: look close to home...look pretty close to home.
Two couples meet at a pretentious "fine dining" restaurant (always remember that fine dining is a code phrase for pretentious and overpriced). Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is a congressman who's running for governor. Paul (Steve Coogan) is the politician's younger brother, a history teacher who's becoming increasingly deranged as he battles mental illness. His mother was a whack job and the strain has been passed on. Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall are Claire and Katelyn--Paul and Stan's spouses respectively.
Stan wants to discuss some weighty issues, but he never gets to them because his assistant (Adepero Oduye) keeps butting in with "I'm sorry, but you really better take this call." Is it any wonder why their sense of self-importance gets blown way out of proportion?
Eventually it is revealed that the two couple's 16 year-old sons have perpetrated a heinous crime upon a homeless woman sleeping inside an ATM kiosk. Just for the sheer glee of it. But the identities of the perpetrators have not been discovered by the authorities, and there's a chance they won't be. So now we have the existential dilemma among the four adults. Turn the boys in and hope for mercy from the courts...or cover it up and hope it goes away? They are scrunched between a rock and a hard place as the possible effects of this unforseen detour of fate upon Stan's political future loom large. In the process of what follows, each of the parents tip their hand as to what kind of people they really are. And it isn't pretty.
Paul is the most interesting character here, as his tenuous hold on keeping it together slowly slips away--leading to a desperate and misguided act near the end. For the most part, Steve Coogan is believable in the role. If Paul is the most interesting, then Claire is the scariest of the bunch. She starts off as something of a sympathetic figure--she's dealing with cancer--but if there is such a thing as "spontaneous" mental illness, the transformation takes place before our eyes in her frenzied and illogical defense of her son as she tries to make black white and vice-versa. It has to be difficult to play such a burgeoning psychopath without veering off into soap opera territory, and unfortunately she steps over that line. But Linney has been a fine actress for a very long time, and I won't mark her down much for that. Rebecca Hall holds her own as the disgruntled congressman's wife who puts them all on notice that she's only going to take so much shit. And Gere, with this performance, ought to run for something. What makes The Dinner special is that the only character in the movie with any integrity is the POLITICIAN! (Yes, I'm tempted to re-label the genre of this film as fantasy.)
I should say something about the ending without giving it away. As the closing credits rolled abruptly onto the screen, a patron a few rows down from me shouted, "THAT SUCKS!" That was my knee-jerk reaction as well. Now, having had some time to let it marinate, I'm sure there was a method to the madness (pardon the pun) of director Oren Moverman concluding the drama the way he did. I just haven't figured out what it is yet.
I'm giving The Dinner a higher grade than some others might, on the strength of a very good cast and at least it wasn't boring.
I loved the ending! And that's not like me—having made the point in previous reviews that I prefer things spelled out. But unlike the idiot who sat near Tim, I felt the up-in-the-air ending was exactly like what happens with real family impasses: they never get totally resolved. And I felt that the fancy restaurant setting, complete with a cadre of waiters serving each course, was almost a separate character in and of itself. (The only sane one of the bunch!)
I can't say enough about Steve Coogan, whose American accent was spot on. I remember seeing him in Philomena with Judy Dench (for which he also cowrote the screenplay) and being super impressed. And his character was so believably rational one minute and mad as a hatter the next. No wonder it rubbed off on his wife. And probably their son.
By the third paragraph in these shared opinions, I usually write about some cinematic flaw. But with The Dinner, I can't find one. The score was minimal -- as I felt it should have been. The flashbacks were totally followable (is that even a word?). My only criticism might be how small a part Chloe Sevigny had as Barbara Lohman, Richard Gere's first wife. (As sane as she seems, one wonders why she ever married him?) You won't leave the theater smiling. But you won't leave it unthinkingly, either!