I recently watched the 2017 film adaptation of The Dinner, a drama and thriller based on Dutch author Herman Koch’s novel (read my review here). The book was first published in 2009 and translated to English in 2012. I thought the book was excellent, despite the fact that the story’s characters are hateful and selfish. It’s only natural to want to see the movie too, right?
Oren Moverman wrote the screenplay and directed the 2017 film, the book’s third adaptation. This movie stars Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall and Michael Chernus.
In both the movie and the book, the story is set at a swank restaurant, where two couples meet to discuss a so-far unsolved violent crime that their teenage sons have committed. Paul Lohman is struggling with mental illness. His older brother Stan is a slick politician who is running for governor. And the wives come to the table with their own secret agendas. The plot revolves around their dinner courses, the unfolding details of their children’s crime and their desire to deal with what might happen to the kids if they are found out.
This movie is a perfect example of how a poor adaptation can wreck a book that offers excellent (if unlikeable) cynical characters and throws moral decisions upon them. Several changes in the story make the movie slow and ambiguous. While the book was set in Amsterdam, the movie takes place in America, most likely Washington. Endless interruptions at dinner make the movie hard to watch. No one sits at the table for any period of time and flashes to the crime and other back stories jumble up an already confused sequence. Trying to get a grip on the story is like trying to hold onto an unhooked fish in the rain.
In the movie, Paul is ready for a breakdown. Long scenes and references to the Civil War dominate a major portion of the film, with little connection to the story, except to Paul’s failed teaching career. In addition, the movie’s finish is completely different from the book, which changes the whole idea of the story. It’s no surprise that Herman Koch walked out of the premiere and did not attend the after-party. He objected to how the movie became a moral story, rather than the cynical one he wrote. He’s quoted as saying, “That after-party would have been rather awkward. What would I have done? Shake hands with everybody and tell them I hated their movie?”
So I pass on recommending the movie, but I do recommend the book. You can check out my reviews (one with spoilers) below:
And for information about the movie:
RogerEbert.com 1.5 stars out of 5
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