Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 30, 2017)
A character drama set in a limited location, 2017ís The Dinner introduces us to two brothers. Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) used to teach history, while Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) enjoys a position of prominence as a politician.
Along with Stanís wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) and Paulís wife Claire (Laura Linney), the brothers meet at a posh restaurant to discuss a problem. Their teen sons committed a crime and the brothers debate the best way to handle this issue.
Boy, that synopsis makes the film sound awfully boring, doesnít it? Four people yammer away for two hours about how to deal with their over-privileged offspring Ė that doesnít promise ďsearing dramaĒ.
In truth, the titular meal occupies surprisingly little of the filmís running time. The four main actors donít sit together at the table for much of the movie, a choice that seems strange given the flickís premise and title.
And while Iím being honest, the issues related to the behaviors of the teens turns into a relatively small aspect of the narrative as well. While it exists in the background and motivates some of the action, these events donít dominate like the movieís concept implies.
So what do we get from Dinner? A lot of Paul and his mental issues Ė lots and lots and lots of that.
Far too much of that, I think, mainly because Paul presents such a relentlessly unlikable character. Dinner nudges toward attempts to explain his behavior as it goes, but these motions donít work well, so weíre left with a lead who we find actively loathsome most of the time.
Not that Paul exists in a vacuum. While he may bring us the least charming of the group, I struggle to think of a single endearing personality in Dinner, as it turns each and every one of its parts into some form of monster.
Perhaps the filmmakers intended to make a skewed point, as they twist convention. How many movies give the politician the most humane through-line and warp the loyal wife/cancer survivor into a bad person?
Whatever purpose these choices serve, they donít work. I can support movies that emphasize badly flawed characters but not when those movies submerge is in unrelenting misery without any sense of real purpose, and thatís what mars Dinner.
I get the impression the filmmakers think their tale reveals truths about the darkness that resides within all of us, but this theme lacks insight. We donít get a grasp on what motivates the roles or allows them to believe in such terrible ways, so instead, we simply wallow in the cruelty and depravity.
Despite the problems with the characters as written, the actors do their best to flesh out the roles. Though he spouts an awful American accent, I do appreciate Cooganís refusal to soften Paulís edges, and the others embrace the flaws in their parts as well.
Unfortunately, The Dinner remains too gratuitously ugly and absent from depth to prosper. Weíre stuck with two hours of cruelty, anger and insults that fail to deliver insights of any substance.