The Dinner

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Steve Coogan as Paul Lohman, Richard Gere as Stan Lohman, Rebecca Hallas Katelyn Lohman, and Laura Linney as Claire Lohnman in THE DINNER. Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

Director Oren Moverman frustrated me with Love & Mercy. The early segments with Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) were good. The segments with John Cusack were awful.

I was frustrated with his critically praised Rampart (Woody Harrelson). I didn’t buy a single way those police officers acted. The other movie he did with Woody Harrelson, The Messenger, was one of the best movies of 2009.

Moverman worked with Richard Gere a few years ago in Time Out of Mind. It was an awful film dealing with a homeless guy. The only interesting thing about it was Ben Vereen’s performance.

So I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, but I sat at home watching it with my wife and we were both blown away. We talked about it for hours, and it currently sits atop my list for movies of the year.

I liked it so much, I really don’t know where to start in telling you why. I’ll start with one of the most underrated talents (in America) — Steve Coogan. I love his sense of humor [find his Alan Partridge character, or “The Trip” movies]. He’s playing it straight here, and showing some acting chops. He’s a teacher that is really opposed to meeting his politician brother (Richard Gere) at the most expensive and exclusive restaurant in town. His wife (Laura Linney) talks him into going. Gere saunters up with his political aid (Adepero Oduye), shaking hands, smiling, and acting like that smarmy, self-absorbed charmer. We’re immediately finding disgust in his character, perhaps because we all know what politicians are like.

He’s with his second wife (Rebecca Hall), who is half his age. We’ll see the first wife (Chloe Sevigny) in flashbacks. Now, the flashbacks were interesting, and they’re necessary in finding things out about these characters and the predicament they’re in. Yet it also creates tonal shifts that some won’t like. It also makes it a lot longer to get to the point than would’ve rationally happened. I certainly didn’t care. We’re getting served a six-course meal that is delicious, and watching four actors with a great script to chew on, and certainly whet my appetite.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I go to restaurants and movie theatres, and have the same thoughts in my head as Coogan spouts off. He seems to hate everyone around him (of course, mine usually derive from loud children and crying babies that parents do nothing about, but I digest…hehehe). Coogan might be right to resent his brother — who is successful, good looking, and the one mom liked best. He even tells his wife a story about how when he was 11, he saw his mom embracing him and said, “Why don’t you two get a room?”

That landed him a punch that knocked him down the stairs. Yet Coogan even starts in on the maitre d’ (played brilliantly by accomplished stage actor Michael Chernus, who I loved in Mistress America and The Family Fang).

Surprisingly, the one weak spot was Laura Linney overacting, but I blame the director for that. In the 3rd act, she’s a bit over-the-top, which is exactly what they probably wanted for that character. It’s also what the critics will be praising. Look…I think she’s the third best actress working today (behind Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton). I just think they should’ve toned it down a bit. The way she got protective over her kids made my wife say to me, “Why in the world would they have met at this restaurant to discuss all this?”

And what is it they’re discussing? I won’t tell you much. Nothing in this movie should be spoiled for you and I’m sure most critics will tell you more than you need to know. It’s great fun to discover some characters might not be as bad as you thought, but since the commercial does show you a bit…and you need to know the premise…both couples have kids that stopped at the ATM to pay for a cab. Something bad happened after that. With a politician running for governor, and other reasons, a cover-up might be in the making.

One of many things that makes this such a terrific experience is you have sympathy for all those involved (including the poor maitre d’).

I’ve seen thousands and thousands of movies, and this is one of the few times I’ve experienced this with a single scene. When I was watching the scene at the Gettysburg Battlefield, it was confusing. It was going on a bit long, and had weird colors and felt fragmented. The narration was odd, perhaps taken from direct touring tapes of the museum. Yet I spent days thinking about that scene, and now I think it’s brilliant.

The dialogue with the kids in the film was smart. One of those kids, played by Charlie Plummer of Boardwalk Empire, was especially interesting.

Gere recently got praised for the disappointing film Norman. This is the movie he should be praised for. He’s brilliant in it. Perhaps one of the few missteps was how many phone calls he had to excuse himself to take. Sure, he’s trying to get a bill passed and is busy. It’s easy to forgive that (and the length of the movie), because there’s just so much holding your interest.

I thought the ending could’ve been done a little better (and what was with them ending the movie with the punk song “F**kers” by The Savages?); but that’s small potatoes (no pun intended).

Most people will leave this movie asking themselves just how far they’d go to protect the ones they love. Sure, I thought about it, but…I was more perplexed as to why people would go so far, and spend so much, on such pretentious presentations of food, that can’t possibly taste any better than a meal at an average priced restaurant. But again, I digest. I just ate at Chili’s.

This is based on the bestseller by Dutch writer Herman Koch and shouldn’t be missed.

4 stars out of 5.