Two estranged brothers and their wives meet at a restaurant to discuss a dark crime committed by their sons. With their involvement still a secret, they must decide how far they'll go to protect the ones they love.
The Dinner focuses on two couples having dinner at an upscale restaurant: Paul and Clare Lohman (Steve Coogan and Laura Linney), and Paul's brother Stan and his wife Katelyn (Richard Gere and Rebecca Hall). Both are fairly affluent couples who clearly don’t have their acts together; a problem since both couples have kids and those kids get themselves in a great deal of trouble. Clare is the only one in the group to realize there is a problem from the beginning, but only because her son tells her everything and she doesn’t share it with Paul, or anyone else for that matter.
You see, every character in this film has a deep character flaw is revealed throughout this dinner. Clare loves her son very much and has sacrificed a great deal for him, but will also cover up anything wrong he does in his life. Stan is a typical too-rich-for-his-own-good business man with a twist: he actually has a heart of gold when it comes to Paul, and has helped him with his many neuroses through the years. Katelyn seems like she is cold as ice, Cruella DeVille archetype at first, but we learn she is the one who cares about these kids more than anyone else involved and actually becomes Stan’s moral compass toward the latter half of the film. The main focus is on Paul, and he is the most flawed of them all. He has some type of neurosis for everything, he has a serious personality disorder, and worst of all, he is incapable of not letting it affect his family. All of these personalities come across as very real and genuine characters that anyone can find one to relate to.
Adapting a novel can be a tricky and sometimes impossible task for a filmmaker. Where this adaptation falls apart is in the conveying of information. Both the novel and the film deviate from dinner regularly with flashbacks to tell these characters’ back stories, as well as the entire subplot involving the children and what they did. The way in which all the flashbacks in The Dinner are clumsily inserted gives the viewer no inkling of how these events took place or the timeline in which they took place. This hurts the character of Paul the most. His mental illness and neuroses are told to us entirely in flashbacks that are designed like a jigsaw puzzle which the audience has no chance in figuring out.
The Dinner is a well-acted film with deep characters that show their true colors as the film goes on. Unfortunately, those same character reveals are told to us through confusing flashbacks that never get explained, causing them to feel jarring instead of insightful. They left me saying "Huuhhh" when I should be saying "Ahhhhaaa.” Perhaps this story should have solely focused on dinner and left the character reveals to happen in the moment through more present writing, but like I said, adaptations are tricky. The Dinner is an interesting failure, but one that doesn't work for me.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Lionsgate drops The Dinner onto Blu-ray with a rather swanky slip cover featuring art that could lead the viewer to believe the film was more thrilling than it actually is. Found inside the hardcover keep case is a BD-50 Blu-ray accompanied by a Digital HD Ultraviolet download. A slew of theatrical trailers are presented once you hit play, then we are brought to a main menu where we can navigate from there.
The Dinner makes its high-class way onto Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that is a true delight. Even though I couldn’t find any evidence to back up my theory, this looks to be shot on film. Framed at a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this transfer has just enough grain to remind us that a traditional film look can still work. Clarity and detail are also at a high, especially in flashback scenes. There is a vibrancy in the flashbacks that the dinner scenes lack which add just a little bit more style, showing us a different side to the cinematography. Black levels can be on the dark side, but never intrude on the quality of the transfer. This is a great example of a transfer with subtle visual cues that fit the overall tone of the film.
Lionsgate serves up The Dinner onto Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that brings the ambiance. The atmosphere of an upper-class dining experience is recreated quite well with the clink of glassware and subdued chatter of the room flowing straight through the fronts and into the surrounds in a way that rarely happens with dramas of this nature. The score is also presented quite well by not being front heavy and using the surrounds to assist when needed. High, mid, and low range audio is also presented effectively. The only problem is that the dialogue is a bit on the softer side for my liking. There is a good amount of conspiring and whispering in The Dinner, and every time I found myself straining to hear what was being said. This track comes across a lot like its video transfer counterpart. A good track that fits the setting quite well without drawing too much attention to itself.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Owen Moverman and Actress Laura Linney – A nice little commentary track that is a lot more informative than it seems. They talk a lot about similarities with the book, and have a genuine love for the source material. Linney was actually particularly close to the material and has a lot to say about the characters and their characterizations. I have great admiration for Linney and love hearing her talk about film, and therefore found this commentary engaging.
The Dinner is a well scripted, well-acted mess of a film that fails thanks to a series of muddled flashbacks, producing a sense of narrative whiplash lacking in cohesive structure. If you are the type of person who can admire good onscreen characters no matter how they are thrown at you, then check this one out. For the rest of us, it’s just another failed novel adaptation and nothing more.