The Dinner; 120 min; Rated R
“The Dinner,” set in a five-star, chic restaurant where the many courses are presented, with a monologue, and not merely delivered to the table is a film of humid expectations.
At first it appears to be merely four people meeting for a meal — two brothers, Stan (Richard Gere) and Paul (Steve Coogan), and their wives, Claire (Laura Linney) and Katelyn (Rebecca Hall).
What quickly becomes obvious is that they arrive with more baggage than a hotel lobby, meaning unresolved issues that for Stan and Paul stretch back to their youth. It’s clear that Paul is dragging with him through life, like a wet sack of cement, anger and resentment and grievances that he insists were not of his making. He actually snarls to Stan, “Mom loved you more.”
Stan is a successful congressman; Paul was once a high school history teacher now apparently unemployed. Katelyn is Stan’s second wife (previously a campaign aide). Claire is, beyond all understanding, a caring wife to Paul and not that long ago out of the hospital, having recovered from a serious illness.
Paul is a loose cannon on the dinner table deck, acerbically reactive, his language raw and vitriolic, perpetually skirting full-blown rage or on the verge of losing it altogether, contributing massively to the sustained tension. Through flashbacks, which are used sparingly but to excellent effect, we’re told that he has suffered from a mental breakdown and clearly remains fragile and conflicted about all of his connections, especially to his brother.
And contributing to the cognitive dissonance that grips the brittle dinner conversation — if indeed it can be called conversation — is the arrival of their haute cuisine that remains, in great part, uneaten.
What is really being served is Stan’s motivation for bringing them together. I am reluctant to explain in too much detail what has occurred, but suffice it to say that it involves the couples’ sons, both 16, who are involved in a horrific act. Stan insists that they, meaning all four of them, must confront what has occurred and make a decision as to how to proceed.
He argues that if they fail to deal with this event, their lives will be ruined. He means all of their lives. Most especially the boys. The other three disagree. What they are confronting gives meaning to the term, the rock and the very hard place. Their choice is all but impossible to resolve or even comprehend. It is a truth that is better denied.
What also becomes evident is that their inherent dysfunction is only intensified, for there is nothing in any of their experiences that could prepare them for this crossroads moment.
Of course they are flawed, haunted by their imperfections and therefore starkly ill-equipped to form any kind of a united front.
Having said all of that, the question inherent in the script is can a movie such as this find an audience. It is a long and disjointed hothouse conversation; however, it’s also a tour de force of fine acting, an ensemble that is remarkable, offering an antidote to whatever the galaxy flavor of the month that has arrived, signaling that summer is about to start.