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Tribeca Film Festival 2017: ‘The Dinner’ is One Tasty Film

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To many, family is number one. For instance, parents must watch out for their children and make sure that they don’t fall victim to harm or injustice. This is the main theme in The Dinner, an honest and at times raw drama that unfolds like a glossy staged play. It is definitely one of the more serious films to be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, and with a stellar cast, a sharp script, and solid direction, it is definitely one of better films to be released in recent times. Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, and Rebecca Hall headline the picture, and with their strong performances and exquisite chemistry, The Dinner is one tasty film for sure.

The story is a unique one, and the way it unfolds is all the more unique. Paul Lohman (Coogan) and his wife Claire (Linney) are meeting Paul’s congressman brother Stan (Gere) and his cold wife Katelyn (Hall) at a posh and rather ridiculous restaurant. Everything from the upscale foyer and the pretentious maitre’d to the very specific dishes screams “over-the-top,” and represents the very opposite of this awkward encounter, because the reason for this dinner is that these two couples’ teenage sons have committed a heinous crime, and now the parents must discuss how to deal with it.

The Dinner mainly focuses on Paul, a cynical history teacher who has a very realistic and sometimes harsh view of life. He is jealous of Stan’s political success and is somewhat mentally ill. The dinner will be the stage where Paul and Stan finally have it out and put everything on the table. The original reason for the meeting is that their sons have done something so terrible that their parents need to intervene, but what’s actually happening is a brother-brother feud that finally needs to be resolved. Whether that feud gets resolved is up to the viewer to find out, but the results are really quite gripping.

Since The Dinner is about characters, and the sets are limited, the whole production really feels liked a stage performance. The main location is the restaurant, and there are flashbacks to other places, but the table is the main set, and the characters coexist because of that table. If there is no dinner, then there is no movie, and having said that, writer/director Oren Moverman (The Messenger, Rampart) has set the table quite beautifully here. The camera moves from character to character in a way that is almost musical. The decor in the restaurant is splendid, excellently contributing to its pretentious nature. The screenplay by Moverman needs to commended as well, as it was adapted from Dutch author Herman Koch’s novel The Dinner, a book that was met with much commercial success.

The four main actors in The Dinner are what really make the film, and while Richard Gere is top billed, it is Steve Coogan who without a doubt steals the show. The Irish-English actor sports a pretty decent American accent, and his bookish, sarcastic nature makes him the film’s most interesting character. Paul is a complex individual, and the interactions he has with his family – and even complete strangers – sometimes makes him seem like a total jerk. At second glance, however, you can see that he is the smartest and most pragmatic person at the table.

Richard Gere plays brother Stan the exact way you’d expect him to, as a dashing silver fox who has a way with words and people. Laura Linney’s performance as Paul’s wife is adequate and sort of bland, while Rebecca Hall adds a bit of fire to her role as Stan’s emotionally stifled wife/arm candy. All in all, the acting in The Dinner is delightful and helps move the film to great heights.

The powerful combination of the script, direction, and the actors here is what makes this one of the better human dramas of late, but while some scenes drag a bit, this is overshadowed the actors doing an absolutely terrific job. The premise is a little heavy, with the two teenage sons being involved in a really awful crime, and the dialogue tends to get a little heated, but this just makes for one fine film. Steve Coogan definitely brings a lot to the table in The Dinner, and fans of Moverman and the other three actors are certainly in for a treat with this dark, smart, and delicious human drama.

Randall J. Unger (Randy) is a film critic and interviewer who reviews movies of all kinds. He interviews actors, filmmakers, composers, dancers, and even special effects makeup artists for his film review show / podcast 'Unger the Radar'. Some of the talent he has interviewed includes Jude Law, Liam Neeson, James Franco, Marisa Tomei, Elijah Wood, Kevin Pollak, Robert Rodriguez, and Kal Penn. He is a regular fixture at screenings, comic cons, and other special events. He is based in New York City. Twitter: @randall_unger

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