There is an impressive cast behind The Dinner that makes it intriguing from the outset. Richard Gere and Laura Linney would be enough to get anyone’s attention but add Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall and you start to imagine that there should be some quality behind The Dinner. There is a lot to like about the movie but there is also elements which struggle to work as well.
The actual idea behind the movie is a good one. Two couples, linked through brothers caught in a deep family rivalry, meet to discuss an “incident” involving their sons. The incident is drip-fed through the conversation, as the people involved in the story clearly know more than the eavesdropping audience. It is a classic story-device and is worked to good effect here, particularly as The Dinner in question is constantly interrupted, delayed and de-railed by events outside of the conversation the foursome are struggling to finish.
The incident itself is also of interest and worthy of the movie’s story. The fact it could end a political career (Richard Gere) but in doing so destroy the life of Laura Linney and Steve Coogan’s son means the characters are at odds from the outset and it leads to some well-scripted, well-acted dramatic confrontations.
The film is deeper than just The Dinner though and there are flashbacks and non-linear story-telling to fill in the pieces of the four character’s back-story. This includes conversations about adoption, depression, nervous-breakdowns and (strangely) The Battle of Gettysburg. Each flashback fills in the pieces nicely, as with each new scene we are given a deeper understanding of the events and what has caused this Dinner to occur.
All of this seems good in practice but the film struggles to keep interest throughout. The Dinner itself is infuriating in places as just as progress is being made, one of the characters leaves the table for some ridiculous reason. It fails in realism at times and just seems too cryptic at others. The flashbacks also distract as well. Some are useful, like one in which Coogan’s character has his nervous breakdown but others, like a prolonged visit to the site of Gettysburg, struggles to be relevant and just pulls focus.
As for the “incident” and it’s resolution: this is somewhat dealt with but how well you like your finales clear and focused will depend on your enjoyment. It is an ambiguous ending, with hints at the fate of key characters which will either heighten your enjoyment or dampen it.
Overall, The Dinner is a good idea, with a great cast to pull it off. The story works well but the non-linear aspect and the over-developed back story means that it often feels disjointed and muddled. A little more care is needed and a little more realism at how people actually act at dinner.
Rating – 3.5
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