* * 1/2 (out of five)
Steve Coogan is a really good actor, and he can nail drama. His introspective moments in the Trip series have been getting more and more intriguing (and they are tremendously subtle); he was phenomenal in Philomena, and his ability to portray real people, as evidenced in the masterpiece 24 Hour Party People and the pretty damn good The Look of Love, sits without many peers. That said, no actor – not Dustin Hoffman, not Daniel Day Lewis – should be saddled with the burden Coogan bears in The Dinner, an adaptation of Herman Koch’s successful Dutch literary novel from 2009 from writer/director Oren Moverman (Time Out of Mind, Rampart, The Messenger).
Besides donning an American accent (which he does admirably), Coogan has to contend with an incredibly serious impairment, an almost ludicrously difficult moral quandary, and long, long speeches, all of which could have been trimmed and many of which could have been cut. It may well be that Moverman was absolutely entranced and moved by Coogan’s excellent performance, but, in leaving it all in, he’s unfortunately left his leading man out to dry.
The movie would have been better too, had those cuts been made, because it’s too long, and collapses under its intense dramatic weight. It has often been said that simple, “airport”, mainstream, easy-reading potboilers make the best move adaptations – a shark terrorises a beach community! – and that complicated literary novels are devilish to adapt. This proves the case here. Watching the film, I kept thinking, “I bet this really works in the book”.
As Coogan’s brother, Richard Gere slides too easily into a high-status role (he’s running for Governor!); Laura Linney is fantastic as Coogan’s wife but the late Sir Peter Hall’s daughter Rebecca stumbles often, lumbered with the film’s weakest dialogue, as Gere’s younger partner. There is a terrific turn from Michael Chernus as the unflappable Maître D of the ludicrously expensive restaurant where these four wretched souls are thrashing out their problems, but unfortunately The Dinner, like the extravagant dishes he’s describing, is over-sauced, over-stuffed, too rich and heavy.