“The Dinner,” a well-acted psychological drama in which four people at a high-end restaurant struggle with family matters, is an interesting meal with too many courses. It’s not always easy to savor.
Director Oren Moverman cannot be faulted for his lack of risk-taking here — a sequence in Gettysburg is beautifully shot and inventive — but he throws in so many elements that it reduces the impact of the conflict. The good news: He has assembled an excellent cast that knows how to handle these actor-friendly roles without overdoing it.
The dark story involves the antisocial, unstable Paul (Steve Coogan, getting more interesting with each film) and the ever-soothing Claire (Laura Linney, impressive as always). Their dinner mates are Paul’s congressman brother, Stan (Richard Gere, solid), who is running for governor, and his trophy wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall, effectively acerbic).
Paul and Stan have similarly aged sons who have gotten themselves into deep trouble, and that ghastly situation is about to intrude on the dinner. It’s a strong setup, but things get unnecessarily jumbled as the meal proceeds.
It’s clear that Moverman wants to minimize the stagey confines of a restaurant by opening things up, but his reliance on flashbacks is often jarring, and we spend too much time hearing about Paul’s increasingly fragile mental state (even as good as Coogan is in expressing it). There also are extraneous bits with the restaurant service, Stan’s congressional aide and Stan’s first wife that drown out the more pertinent themes of social justice, class and family dysfunction.
Though “The Dinner” could have used some trims in the editing room, that doesn’t mean it lacks powerful moments. Linney offers a master class in overprotectiveness and self-delusion, subtly unraveling before our eyes. Coogan, with the showiest role, is convincing as an embittered man on the verge of a breakdown. The sturdy Gere, who has gotten only better with age, has the least flashy part, but he doesn’t deliver a false note as a politician with a conscience. And Hall adds nuances to a character that in lesser hands could have been a cliche.
As we watch these four pros in action, we find ourselves wanting fewer flashbacks and more time with all of the folks in one spot. That would have been a satisfying meal in itself.
Rated R for disturbing violent content and language throughout.