The Dinner–Food for Thought

The Dinner movie


This darkly suspenseful tale of two privileged families is based upon the Dutch author Herman Koch’s bestselling 2013 novel.  The families struggle to make the most consequential decision of their lives, all over the course of  dinner at an exclusive Manhattan restaurant. Upper class privilege and sibling rivalry are at the heart of The Dinner, a psychologically astute family saga. 

A middle-aged high school history teacher, Paul (Steven Coogan), and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) reluctantly have dinner with Paul’s elder brother, Stan (Richard Gere), a prominent politician running for governor, and his second wife Babette (Rebecca Hall).

We slowly become aware that a savage and heinous family trauma has occurred.  As silver globes are pretentiously lifted to reveal dinner courses, a family secret will soon be revealed.  The setting underscores the absurdities of deeply unhappy, entitled lives, hiding underneath the shimmering surface beauty of elegance.  Appearances are deceiving.  Paul despises the pretentiousness of the restaurant, as much as  he does his brother’s success. Neither brother wants to be at this dinner.

Reminiscent of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” or Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie”, The Dinner ominously guides the viewer to witness the desperate tenacity a parent will resort to in order to secure their child’s future or the dissolution of a marriage, sometimes both.  Is no act too reprehensible? What if collateral damage is unavoidable?

The Dinner just ends, as if in mid-sentence. I personally loved this. Some reviewers and audience members absolutely hated this. Questions of morality and justice remain unanswered.  Viewer beware:  There really is  no one to root for or like.  But the four characters are equally riveting and their moral dilemmas persuasive.


And this is what makes The Dinner so compelling.  It is a dissection of family obligation and where it ends.  As Stan, the gubernatorial candidate responds, “family is always political.” 

It will not be for the viewer who seeks the cozy, the redemptive or the uplifting. If you are such a viewer, do not see this dark, noir, nihilistic film.  The specter of no moral compass is hinted at throughout. 

This is a different review because of  The Dinner’s not insignificant flaws. The Dinner does not become a spellbinder until way into the second half of the film.  The first languorous forty-five minutes are almost too painful to watch, except for essential snippets of the family’s history.

As difficult a task as this may sound, persevere even though the irrelevance of most of the first half of this movie may wear you out.  When The Dinner does finally reach its climax, the movie crackles, incendiary and explosive. All four actors give extraordinary, unsettling, and unforgettable performances. More cohesion and restraint in editing would have made The Dinner truly exceptional.

Note: Available on Netflix streaming.

“Arbitrage” —Power is the Best Alibi

 

The early scenes of Arbitrage have some of the same high-finance vertigo of Margin Call or Bonfire of the Vanities.  But here we have an overlay of another crime superimposed on financial fraud and wonder what, if any, consequences will follow.

In this implosive thriller Richard Gere plays investment mogul Robert Miller, the suave, arrogant superego, a “master of the universe” in the Gilded Age of arbitrage and hedge funds. He is the icon of the one-percent, a silver fox who charms, cheats, and gloats in his malfeasance. Until he can’t.

Wealth creates the rules and decides who gets to play the game.  And Robert Miller is at the top. Celebrating his 60th birthday with his beautiful and elegant wife (Susan Sarandon in a subtle but magnetic role), their two adult children and grandchildren, Miller has a secret life.  His wife longs for a closer relationship, not so focused on money.  In a digression from the Bernie Madoff model, it is the daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) –not the son– who is the wunderkind and heir-apparent to her father’s hedge-fund empire.  And she must struggle with her father’s legacy.

Living in a temple of luxury, the Miller family’s protective cocoon isolates them from a world outside and from each other.  Just as we’re settling in and squirming, watching the dynamic between financial pillage and spillage into family matters, the film takes another direction. Police become involved: one in particular–Michael Bryer (played impeccably by Tim Roth), an unassuming Columbo.  And the issues of race and class collide:  a trajectory moving precipitously to harm Jimmy Grant, a Harlem youth (the gifted Nate Parker) caught in a web of deceit.  We witness unrelenting evil and an underlying fear of capture, committed in the pursuit of money and glory in which no one is spared.

This is a morality tale–a tale of hell in a financial guise, well told, where morality and selfishness battle, never descending to bland and predictable.  Gere gives us a window into the soul of a man who has lost his way.  Sarandon knows the price she and her children have paid.  I am not a huge Richard Gere fan. But I have to admit that Gere is made to play this slime-ball role.  Think “Internal Affairs” or “The Hoax”.  No one can do it better…or almost no one.  His toxic appeal in “Arbitrage” is unnerving.

A directorial debut by the startlingly restrained Nicholas Jarecki (the son of two commodities traders), Jarecki captures the gleaming seduction of Wall Street.  He knows the territory.  This cinematic thriller is original and delectable to watch, for those of us who love the dark side!