Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny, Charlie Plummer, Adepero Oduye, Michael Chernus, Taylor Rae Almonte, Joel Bissonnette, George Aloi, Patrick Kevin Clark, Dominic Colón, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Onika Day, Laura Hajek, Miles J. Harvey, Emma R. Mudd
Written by: Oren Moverman, based on a novel by Herman Koch
Directed by: Oren Moverman
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, and language throughout
Running Time: 120
Date: 05/05/2017
IMDB

The Dinner (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Enemy Dine

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though it is admirably complex and intelligent, this talky drama quickly gives way to exasperation as its relentlessly irritating, chronically demoralizing segments pile up and form a bleak picture.

In The Dinner, troubled former history teacher Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) reluctantly prepares for dinner at a fancy restaurant, while his wife Claire (Laura Linney) is looking forward to it. They have been invited by Paul's brother, congressman Stan (Richard Gere) and Stan's second wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall).

The four immediately begin bickering and snapping at one another, with various histories and perceived betrayals bubbling up among the fancy food and drink. Eventually it becomes clear that Stan has invited them all for a reason. Their kids had been involved in a horrific incident involving a homeless woman at an ATM, and wants to try to do the right thing, but Claire objects, wishing to protect her son at all costs. Who will win the argument, and what is really at stake?

Based on a novel by Herman Koch, The Dinner has several agendas on the table, including mental illness, splintering family units, politics, history, and the morals of the privileged class, as well as the concept of "affluenza." But, perhaps in an effort to artificially build suspense, the movie hides what it's really up to, using flashbacks and asides as distraction, rather than illumination.

Director Oren Moverman and star Richard Gere previously collaborated on the equally bleak, but enormously cinematic and moving Time Out of Mind, and Moverman's earlier works like The Messenger were likewise simple, profound exploration of human tragedy. The Dinner is far too cluttered and stagnant to achieve the same effect.

The entire movie is talking, with the four characters each occasionally storming away from the table, to other rooms or outside, to argue in pairs. Garish mood lighting and frustrating sound effects (phone alerts are constantly heard) only help to escalate a mood of hopeless hostility.

Lionsgate's home video release includes a Blu-ray and a digital copy. The picture is quite good, with the subtle, muted colors glowing nicely in the background, though the dialogue seems mixed a little low on the audio portion. A commentary track by director Moverman and star Linney also seems a bit off, with Moverman's voice a little distant, and the film soundtrack mixed up a bit too high. Otherwise, there is a photo gallery (I haven't seen one of these in a while), and trailers for other Lionsgate releases (but not this one).

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