Table Talk

Oren Moverman is the very talented screenwriter who worked on Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There. He’s since segued into a fruitful career as a director, on The Messenger, Rampart and last year’s homeless drama Time Out Of Mind, starring Richard Gere. He reunites here with Gere for The Dinner, an American-set take on the novel by Dutch author Herman Koch that’s already been twice adapted for the screen by Menno Meyjes and Ivano de Matteo.

Moverman’s version keeps the central conceit of the novel, as two couples come together at an absurdly posh restaurant for more than just the haute cuisine. Gere plays Stan, a slick congressman running for governor who spends half his meal either smooth-talking the other diners or fielding calls about his campaign. With his second wife Kate (Rebecca Hall) in tow, they are joined by Stan’s younger brother Paul (Steve Coogan), a history teacher, and his spouse Claire (Laura Linney).

The unreliable narrator of the novel, Paul is extremely reluctant to spend time with his older sibling, with their relationship fraught with issues. But there is a reason to endure the evening, and it’s not for the overpriced tiny portions of food. The brothers must discuss their respective offspring – Paul’s son Mike (Charlie Plummer) and Stan’s boys, Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and the adopted Beau (Miles J. Harvey). There’s been an incident, a distressing one, that has implications for the whole family.

With the film divided into chapters named after courses (aperitif, desert and so on), the action doesn’t just take place in the fancy restaurant. Rather, there are flashbacks – not just to the event involving the children, but to Stan’s first marriage to Barbara (Chloë Sevigny) and even a day-trip he and Paul took to Gettysburg. Rather than add to the texture of the film, these inserts have the undesired effect of disrupting its rhythm.

It’s a shame, not least because Coogan particularly relishes every morsel of bile-drenched dialogue he’s given. Gere is also compelling to watch, lending credibility to the role of a politician with (shock, horror) a moral code. Sadly, Linney and Hall are left rather short-changed, while the men do the talking. Compared to Moverman’s earlier work, it’s dramatically clunky, never quite maintaining its focus, leaving you with a bad case of indigestion.

James Mottram

The Dinner opens in cinemas on 8 December. For more information, visit: www.vertigoreleasing.com

Credits:
1. Still from The Dinner. Courtesy of Vertigo Releasing.