Oh what Edward Albee hath wrought! His seminal play and film Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? may not be the direct inspiration for writer-director Oren Moverman’s intense new film The Dinner, but it is close enough — at least in concept. Two disparate couples come together for what is supposed to be a nice evening (or so we think) at a fancy restaurant, but as the night rolls on family secrets, troubled familial relationships, mental illness, class divides and other issues come to the fore and all of it heads to a boil.
Unlike the Albee play, Moverman uses flashbacks to set the table for this dinner so to speak, especially the real reason these couples have gathered at this upscale watering hole. As I say in my video review above, this “dinner” is really a showcase for explosive acting opportunities for four of our finest, though it is Laura Linney unleashed who makes the biggest impression of all.
Richard Gere plays Stan Lohman, a congressman currently the front-runner to become governor. Rebecca Hall is Katelyn, his trophy-type wife, a woman who clearly has latched onto him for his power and standing. On the opposite end of the scale is his quirky brother Paul, played to the hilt with a strong American accent by Steve Coogan, and his wife Claire (Linney). Coogan is the most talkative and opinionated of this foursome, but it is slowly revealed he has some pretty serious mental health issues that have held him back from ever matching his brother.
What has brought them together are their two teenage sons, who committed an unspeakable crime at an ATM, something morally reprehensible. The events of that night are slowly creeping onto the Internet, although the footage doesn’t positively identify them. The parents must now try to figure what, if anything, to do about this. The interesting thing is the politician running for office among them is the one urging full disclosure and taking the moral high ground. Others have a different approach in mind. It all becomes heated as the parties involved ratchet up the stakes. Without giving away spoilers, I would say the ending is a true shocker simply because of the way Moverman dares end it.
There is no question all of this is a high-wire act for the actors and director, one they manage to successfully navigate for most of the running time. It’s no easy trick as works like Virginia Woolf and more recently God Of Carnage (a great comedy onstage, terrible in Roman Polanski’s misguided film adaptation) have demonstrated. Lest you think The Dinner is all of one intense style, there is some dark and twisted comedy mixed into the stew, and with tonal shifts sometimes not quite landing, I almost wish Moverman loosened up a bit on the flashbacks and really let things rip open in real time, though I understand the need to make this more cinematic.
Gere, who is also seen to great effect in the current Norman, continues to prove he is in the midst of an impressive indie renaissance, and this role is tailor-made for this phase of his career. Hall is always good, and fits the bill of the social-climbing political wife perfectly. Coogan is a bit of a revelation and nails it, even if he can be completely obnoxious at times. But it is Linney, fierce and biting, that steals the show with some of her best film work. She is simply riveting to watch, especially when Moverman gives her the ammunition she needs. What an actress. A big plus for all is the exceptional cinematography from Bobby Bukowski.
Art house audiences and fans of challenging adult cinema are in for a treat, intense as this fine acting showcase is. Caldecot Chubb, Lawrence Inglee, Julia Lebedev and Eddie Vaisman produced the film, which is based on Herman Koch’s 2009 bestseller. It premiered in February at the Berlin Film Festival, and The Orchard opens it nationwide Friday.
Do you plan to see The Dinner? Let us know what you think.