by Toby Woollaston
The Dinner combines sophisticated cuisine with a stale burger patty in this adaptation which feels at odds with Herman Koch’s bestseller of the same name. Having two previous European big-screen treatments — a Dutch film in 2013 and the Italian version in 2014, this American reworking certainly feels like a vegetable side that hasn’t been procured from the chef’s very own garden.
A dinner is arranged at an exclusive restaurant by congressman Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) to discuss a few “salient” family issues. Stan and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) are joined by Stan’s pessimistically difficult brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and his long-suffering wife Claire (Laura Linney). There is an elephant in the room that requires urgent attention—their sons have been implicated in a heinous act of violence resulting in the death of a homeless woman. With careers on the line and family wounds bubbling to the surface, the Lohmans squabble and argue about how far they are prepared to go to protect the children they love.
It’s a chamber-piece resembling Polanski’s Carnage and a similarly stage-like quality is exemplified by the decision to separate the film into five acts; each represented as a different course lovingly introduced in exquisitely pretentious detail by the waiter, Dylan (Michael Chernus). It is an interesting structure, but somewhat superfluous to narrative requirements—the culinary subtext being a considerably disparate garnish for the film’s premise.
Director Oren Moverman (Love & Mercy) further complicates matters by explaining the Lohman’s tortured back story with flashbacks inserted throughout the five courses, which only serve to bloat and confuse a film already ripe with complications.
Despite the top-shelf cast The Dinner fails to deliver on the back of a well received novel, and gets bogged down in moral ambiguities rather than the dark satire and cynical focus that the book intended. Koch openly voiced such frustrations after the film’s European premiere in Berlin. The Dinner might rustle up a tasty morsel for some, but its awkward melange of flavours means most will send the meal back to the kitchen.
Read the review here.