Blu-ray Review: The Dinner (2017)

By , Contributor
Writer-director Oren Moverman takes a stab at something boldly confrontational in The Dinner, the third film based on Herman Koch's 2009 novel of the same name. Numerous dark issues are explored, chief among them mental illness. The more we get to know Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan), the more unbalanced he is revealed to be. He and wife Claire (Laura Linney) are meeting his congressman brother Stan (Richard Gere) and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) for dinner. Among the many topics of discussion is a horrific act of wanton, criminal violence committed by their children. In addition to the depths of Paul's tortured psyche, the other focus is a parent's capacity for denial.

Marketed as a straightforward thriller, The Dinner (recently issued by Lionsgate on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD) presents a messy, sometimes confounding, non-traditional narrative that surely will hook some viewers while repelling others. If the 51% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes is any indication, Moverman has crafted a polarizing film. In the end, it's not really a very good movie, unfortunately. But if the goal was to provoke audiences (which seems to have been the case), Moverman succeeds. It's hard to discuss without getting into blatant spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the movie asks "What would you do?" in order to preserve the illusion that your family situation is stable. 
 
rsz_the_dinner_group.jpg The backdrop for this morality play is a garishly upscale dinner served by a team of wait staff at a snooty restaurant. It's not long before we realize how much seething hatred exists between brothers Paul and Stan. They barely tolerate each other. Paul, in fact, barely tolerates anyone other than his wife. His unrepentant rudeness toward the restaurant's maître d' is accepted solely due to the establishment's respect for high-profile politician Stan. As Stan contemplates a re-election campaign, he and his family try to figure out how to deal with the problem created by their children.

Charlie Plummer plays Michael, Paul and Claire's only son and the ringleader behind the violent crime that hangs over the entire proceeding. In light of recent real-life events such as the Florida teens who stood by laughing and making a video while a man drowned to death, Charlie's actions are especially (and uncomfortably) timely. When filtered through the unusual upbringing Charlie received from his unreliable, unpredictable, and generally nihilistic father, his actions are perhaps less surprising (though not forgivable). Stan and Katelyn's own kids, including adopted Beau (Miles J. Harvey), are more accessories to the crime—but blood remains on all their hands, particularly Katelyn's. She's Stan's second wife (his first is played by Chloë Sevigny in flashbacks) and never got to have children of her own. All Katelyn wants to do is sweep the problem under the carpet ("It was an accident," she insists—an outright lie if you've seen what Charlie and company did). 
 
rsz_the_dinner_bd.jpg I suspect most viewers will wonder whether or not they really needed to spend two hours with a group of such truly despicable people. Particularly puzzling are some of the tangents Moverman indulges in (an extended sequence detailing Paul's obsession with the American Civil War—the Battle of Gettysburg—in particular), which will lose more viewers than they retain. But the performances (most notably the truly scary work by Coogan—his Paul is not someone you'd want teaching your kid, as evidenced by flashbacks showing him at work in a high school classroom). It's the cast that goes some ways toward making The Dinner as watchable as it is.

The reliable Lionsgate offers a strong visual presentation on Blu-ray of Bobby Bukowski's moody, evocative cinematography. The sound design and Elijah Brueggemann's score are well served by the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. Special features are limited to a commentary track by director Oren Moverman and co-star Laura Linney (and a still photo gallery).

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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