Repressed grownups and their problems are a bounteous source of inspiration for writers and filmmakers, and The Dinner--which director Oren Moverman adapted from Herman Koch's 2009 novel--serves up a multicourse feast of dysfunction. Richard Gere plays Stan, a chilly, pragmatic Congressman gunning for the governor's office. His second wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), stands with him, though she can barely hide her exasperation. His brother Paul (Steve Coogan) has had it rough: his struggle with mental illness has cost him his job as a history teacher, and though his wife Claire (Laura Linney) is supportive, her own health problems have cast a shadow on the marriage. The two couples gather for dinner at a chichi restaurant, one of those places where the food is marched out with reverence, like edible royalty.
It should all be lovely--except the two couple's children have gotten into some deep and rather ugly trouble, and the grownups differ on how much they should intervene to set things right. We learn, through flashbacks nestled between courses, not just what these kids did, but also how their parents have wrestled with their own lifelong stresses and traumas.
That's a lot to pile on one dinner plate, but Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger) keeps the action moving smoothly, even when it just involves talking--or bickering. Actors live for this kind of material, and the ensemble rallies, particularly Coogan. We're used to seeing him in comedies--like the Trip movies, with Rob Brydon--but here, he's wholly convincing as a man whose nerves have been scraped raw. As he suffers through this evening of forced socializing, we too feel the weight of every tense minute.