The Dinner
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The Dinner

Oren Moverman gives us a lot to chew on in this adaptation of the Herman Koch bestselling morality tale. At times, he serves up too much. Others, mystifyingly, not enough.

I was one of the rare dubious readers of that original novel. Why use the conceit of setting a crucially important family meeting at a snobbishly fabulous public restaurant? Yes, I know it gives plenty of opportunities to make fun of snooty 21st Century gourmandize, and that, to a point, is kind of entertaining, but the real drama of this very serious piece doesn’t get to kick in until the dishes are finally cleared and we all go for an aperitif in the library. Then, thanks to four excellent actors at the top of their game, the fiery fun truly begins.

The crowds who devoured the book will remember we are given the meat of the story in flashback, how two brothers (Richard Gere as politician Stan and Steve Coogan as his suspicious sibling) and their respective wives (Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney) got to the point where they must deal with the shattering misdeeds of their sons, boys who may or may not get caught. While the novel moved speedily through a brisk 320 pages, Moverman prolonged two hours feels draggy and uneven. Oh, and purists may want to know the whole thing’s now set in the US, even though we’re never really sure where.

It is a true testament to the actors, and Moverman’s work with them, that we are drawn in at all by what eventually becomes a shockingly of the moment chess game. Once Gere, Hall and Linney get to do their thing in crescendos of monologues, we are as excited by their work as we are by the giddily horribleness of what they’re talking about. Perhaps the most compelling work, though, comes from Steve Coogan, in this version, central role of Paul. Even at his funniest (and yes, Coogan is very funny) there’s a wrenching sadness never buried deep enough to miss. All of that comes together here, allowing Coogan to deliver the most fascinating performance of his career.

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