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The Dinner (2017)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/8/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/3/2017

When you watch a lot of movies, you can begin to take certain factors for granted and it's only when there is something unusual going on that these things will grab you attention. Take dialogue for example. Most movies are full of words coming out of the actor's mouths and aside from listening to these words for information about the story, we typically don't put a lot of thought into them. However, when the dialogue rings unrealistic or decidedly hollow, we will tend to notice it. Conversely, when it feels like a conversation which you have had in real life, this will earn praise. But, when we are faced with a movie like The Dinner, in which the vast bulk of the film depends on the dialogue, we begin to realize that words truly can carry or kill a movie.

Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) is very reluctantly taking his wife, Claire (Laura Linney), to a very upscale restaurant in order to join his brother, Senator Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) and his wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). Paul doesn't want to be there for two reasons. First of all, he doesn't get along very well with Stan. Secondly, the purpose of the meal is not a warm family reunion. Instead, it has been arranged to discuss a very important family situation -- one which could destroy both families. As the evening drags on from course to course, Stan is repeatedly interrupted by his aide, Nina (Adepero Oduye), who is giving him updates on an important vote, and Paul's tendency to walk away from the table. But, before the night is over, this quartet will clash on this life-changing issue.

You may have noticed that the synopsis for The Dinner is somewhat vague. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the subject of the dinner meeting is somewhat of a mystery and isn't revealed until the second act. We have an idea from the outset as to what it pertains, it takes a while for the movie for fully reveal it. (Although, if you've seen the trailer for the film, then you already have a good idea.) I decided not to give it away here, as it the film's only true strong-point.

The second reason that the synopsis is somewhat brief is that there isn't a lot of story here. Other than the subject of the meeting and the history of tension between the brothers, we aren't given a lot to work with here. Director Oren Moverman adapted The Dinner from the 2009 novel of the same name by Herman Koch, which has already been filmed twice before in 2013 and 2014. I have not read the novel, but based on the synopsis which I found, it starts off with a seemingly benign meeting over dinner and then veers off into more serious subject matter. We certainly don't get that here, as the way in which Moverman has decided to tell the story not only destroys any narrative flow, but it also makes the movie confusing and borderline unwatchable.

The scenes of the meal itself are broken up into the various courses, an effect which I can only assume is lifted directly from the book. This may not be the most novel approach, but the arrival of the various courses could have and should have mirrored the mounting drama of the evening. But, Moverman has decidedly to halt the dinner every few minutes with a flashback, most of which focus on Paul, which illustrate who the characters are. In a sense, the information which we learn here is valuable, as we learn that Paul and Claire have had some tragedies in their lives, but it also gives the movie a "start and stop" feeling that is not palatable. Some of these flashbacks go on for so long that when we rejoin the dinner there's a momentary sense of "Oh yeah, that's what this movie is supposed to be about." Could the details gleaned from the flashbacks have been presented in another way? Perhaps, but one could also argue that many of them simply weren't necessary.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of The Dinner is that the fine cast is simply wasted here. Coogan, who is primarily known for his comedic roles, goes for broke in a portraying a very broken man. I wasn't a fan of Gere when he was popular in the 80s, but I've come to like him in his later years, and he's good here. The always dependable Linney is fine, but I feel like I've seen her in this role before. Not only aren't they given good material to sink their teeth into, none of the characters here are likeable. It's incredibly hard to watch four people argue when you don't care who wins. In the story's defense, I have to say that the character trait twist presented towards the end of the film is a refreshing one and it makes us realize just how powerful The Dinner could and should have been. Of course, this goodwill is destroyed by the abrupt ending. Until watching this movie, I wasn't aware of the novel or the other versions of The Dinner. I may seek them out, as I'd like to see if others handle this morality tale properly.

The Dinner did nothing to improve my interest in gourmet food on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. However, I did not some slight blurring and "trails" when character moved across the screen (which is something which I rarely see). The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is notably good, as the medium shots of the group at the table show us the rest of the restaurant in the background. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Despite the fact that this is a somewhat standard track, that is a high bitrate for a dialogue-driven drama. The most notable effects come from the sounds coming from the other diners, which fill the front and rear channels, creating the illusion that we are right there in the room with them.

The only extras on The Dinner Blu-ray Disc are an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Writer/Director Oren Moverman and Laura Linney and a "Photo Gallery".

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long