The Dinner Review
You’d think that Dutch author Herman Koch’s bestselling book, The Dinner (Het diner), has set some kind of record for the number of film adaptations it has spawned in such a short space of time. First published in 2009, it was brought to the screen in 2013 and 2014 for Dutch and Italian language films respectively, and now director Oren Moverman’s attempt makes it the third version to hit cinemas. Koch's novel contains enough rich content to mine about the resentment and prejudices buried under the liberal fronts presented by so much of the middle-class. Yet, the contained setting seems to pose a problem that Overman becomes obsessed with trying to vary and in the process completely ruins the momentum of the drama.
Working through title cards titled apéritif to digéstif, the story aims to dissect the coming together of two couples who have been avoiding a family crisis for some time. Renowned historian Paul (Steve Coogan) arrives with wife Claire (Laura Linney), while Congressman Stan (Richard Gere) is accompanied by Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). It’s all very civilised at first but as the evening draws on and they are forced to address their roles in covering up an incident involving their teenage children, old gripes and differences slowly come bubbling to the surface.
Any hint of tension that could be generated in a single location dissipates once Moverman begins to cut away from the restaurant to look at Paul’s mentally unstable past. These continued flashbacks, cut into further by showing us the horrible act their sons were involved with, drain the life out the story before the starter soup has started to get cold. If Moverman is trying to explore the family history to explain why the kids could’ve done such a thing, he's barely spending any time with the foursome at the table, constantly moving around the grounds of the restaurant to open up dull exchanges.
Coogan puts on a heavy American accent that verges on the caricatured and generally seems overwhelmed by the complexities expected of his character in the lead role. That none of these people are particularly likeable is not really the issue, but how such little work is put into expanding any facet of their personalities. The two hour run time feels far longer and the big showdown eventually peters out after momentarily threatening to find some kind of resolution to their problem. It seems like Overman attempted to translate every last detail of the book into his cinematic version, rather than working his way into the ugliness of its middle class core. The Dinner is undeserving of any sort of tip and should count itself lucky that anyone is willing to pick up the bill at all.