Film Review: The Dinner (USA, 2017) is an uncomfortable debate that will stay with you after you’ve left the cinema

In We Need To Talk About Kevin writer Lionel Shriver explored the idea of a mother grappling with her son’s heinous act. In The Dinner, four parents deal with the ramifications of a shocking crime perpetuated by their boys. They have to decide how far they will go in order to protect their teenage sons. The film is a tense and dark character study, which shows that one’s moral compass is not always what it seems.

This film is adapted from a controversial, best-selling novel by Dutch writer Herman Koch. It is also a story that has been translated to the silver screen twice before. The current version, written and directed by Oren Moverman is the first time the characters are Americans and the dialogue is English. The setting is a fashionable and pretentious restaurant which most likely possesses multiple hats. It’s something that could have been fun – two brothers and their spouses breaking bread – except that no one really wants to address the elephant in the room.

Steve Coogan stars as Paul Lohman a troubled, former history teacher. Coogan does a pretty-convincing American accent and proves that he can play dramatic roles just as well as comedy characters like Alan Partridge. Lohman has had his fair share of mental health issues in the past but these days he is just a grumpy and cynical old man who rallies against the pomp and ceremony of this extravagant feast. Laura Linney plays Paul’s wife, a woman you feel is long-suffering but she’s also a dark horse because she reveals a more sinister side as the night wears on.

Richard Gere plays Stan Lohman, Paul’s older and more likeable brother. Stan is a popular US congressman who is currently in the running for the position of governor. He’s onto his second marriage to Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) who is often little more than a trophy wife. The night’s fanfare is divided into separate episodes for the different components of the meal from appetisers and entrées through to desserts, drinks and everything in between. Initially the couples seem to enjoy some sarcastic platitudes but that is until the real reason they’re all there is established.

It seems that while the two Lohman brothers are estranged, their 16-year-old sons are very-well acquainted and friendly. These adolescents participate in an unspeakable crime one night and it is captured on video. The boys are not yet formally identified so their parents are discussing what to do next. Should they turn the kids in so that they may be punished by the law? Or should they conceal the crime in order to protect their sons’ futures as well as the reputation of the family and in Stan’s case, his political position.

The plot jumps around a fair bit. Some aspects of the parent’s history is revealed in a series of separate episodes as well as the crime itself. All of this takes place during the dinner. This can get a little messy at times although it’s arguable that this plot is complicated, just like real-life. At some moments however, it does feel like The Dinner tries to tackle too much over the course of this meal.

The Dinner is a riveting think piece and slice of social commentary. It’s also a searing indictment on wealth and privilege. This is a dark, complex and nuanced film that shows a dysfunctional family grappling with an act that’s so bad, it’s unimaginable. It’s the sort of thing that will shock and provoke and it is bound to stay with you even when you have left the cinema.


The Dinner is in cinemas 7th September 2017


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