Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, and Rebecca Hall make a riveting quartet in Oren Moverman’s adaptation of the Herman Koch novel about a dark-hearted dinner gathering.
“The Dinner” has a catchy atmosphere of disturbance. Written and directed by Oren Moverman, and adapted from the best-selling novel by Herman Koch (first published in the Netherlands in 2009), the film ultimately descends from the genre invented by “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Two couples assemble for a “civilized” get-together — dinner and drinks, conversation that starts off as relatively polite. But as the evening wears on, they reveal themselves (or maybe peel themselves, layer by layer) until the hidden violence at the core of their civility stands naked.
The last time this was tried in a movie, in Roman Polanski’s “God of Carnage” (2011), the staging was OK, but the play itself was awful — a chain of contrivances that just got loopier. Koch’s novel is a far more captivating work, and Moverman, the gifted director of “Rampart” and “The Messenger,” is a shrewd naturalistic showman who knows how to portray the intensity of psychological damage without overhyping it. “The Dinner” has the ominous verve of a thriller: It starts off as a movie about four people having dinner at an absurdly fancy restaurant, but it leaps into flashbacks, digressions, emotional byways. It’s still, at heart, a concoction, but a tricky and riveting one, and it’s got a handful of highly resonant things to say about privilege, family, mental illness, and a society in which not giving a damn — about anyone — has begun to evolve into a respectable point of view. Driven by a quartet of powerhouse performances, “The Dinner,” if given the right handling, could find a niche among specialty-market moviegoers who like their carnage served with a sophisticated sting.