By Richard von Busack
Some films you watch, thinking, “This is seriously never going to end.” The Dinner is more like, “this is seriously never going to begin.” The third film based on an international bestseller by the Dutch novelist Herman Koch, director/writer Oren Moverman’s scolding anti-comedy stars Steve Coogan (as Paul). He’s a bitter crank of a former high school history teacher. He loathes his brother Stan (Richard Gere), a congressman running for governor.
The two and their spouses—Stan’s angry new wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) and Paul’s patient wife Claire (Laura Linney)—are to meet at a hideously expensive restaurant that has a waitlist for months. It (eventually, very eventually) transpires that the fabulously pretentious meal is to talk over some bad trouble their sons got into together—a horrifying and unprovoked assault, now visible to the world on social media.
Paul is the kind of role that a Wallace Shawn or a Paul Giamatti could nail; Coogan’s accent is fine, but his angst doesn’t compel us—he’s a smaller-than-life kind of actor in a role that ought to have a little menace to it, a little unintentional humor to the whine.
The tirade against the goddamn kids and their goddamn cellphones flatters an older audience. And the subject matter matches the rancid, acrimonious politics of today. The great Bobby Bukowski’s photography keeps the movie from total enervation: Linney glows in a crimson gown in front of the restaurant’s fireplace, and the exterior walls of the restaurant glow in orange-bronze floodlights. Aside from the occasional eye candy, this is the most thorough-going bummer since We Need to Talk About Kevin.