Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Dinner: Movie Review

A long, slow build to a moral dilemma.
The Dinner is described as a moral dilemma thriller. While "thriller" can seem like a misnomer, when paired with "moral dilemma" it should become clear that the suspense is off-key. The suspense comes in the form of wondering if these characters are ever going to say what they are talking about. The film really is a dinner. Husband and wife, Paul and Claire (Steve Coogan and Laura Linney) are meeting Paul's brother Stan (Richard Gere) and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) for dinner. 2017

Directed by: Owen Moverman

Screenplay by: Owen Moverman
Based on the novel by Howard Koch

Starring: Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere and Rebecca Hall

The dinner is the only thing that occurs in present tense. When Paul complains non-stop about having to go to this dinner, we're given some backstory on Paul's character and his relationship with his brother. To keep it short, Paul hates everybody and everything, especially his brother. In flashbacks, we're also introduced to Stan and his first wife and their children. In present time, Paul has cryptic conversations with his son. At this point, we know very little about what these characters are talking about or what they're up to, we're just given the foreboding sense due to the off-beat score and quick edits that these characters know something and they're going to reveal it eventually.

Steve Coogan, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney in THE DINNER.
Images courtesy of The Orchard
This film is beautifully designed. The colour choices, the scene framing, and the overall atmosphere suits the move perfectly. I just wish that atmospheric tension led to actual tension a lot earlier.

We eventually learn that their sons have committed a crime. It takes almost half the movie even to get an idea of the nature of the crime, the exact crime isn't revealed until the close to the end. And here's my one big issue of the film: If this is a moral dilemma, I think the audience should know what the moral dilemma is for more than the final five minutes. Those final five minutes, and perhaps the five minutes leading up to the big reveal, were handled well. It was a moral dilemma. Each character had a stake in the actions, each character had their own view-point with a logically-sound conclusion, and each audience member will also have their opinion, keeping you invested in their final conversation.

However, before we get to the final five minutes, we spend what feels like an increasingly slow time getting to know each character with flashbacks to small moments that seem unnecessary (even in hindsight). It wasn't a very worthwhile way to build the tension. The Dinner has a lot going for it with its impeccably designed atmosphere, some great dialogue, and a true moral dilemma, but there's too much of nothing as well.