Based on the book by Herman Koch and adapted and directed by Oren Moverman, The Dinner has an exquisite veneer that’s gradually scrapped away to reveal a seething confusion of lies, mental illness, and hypocrisy, as the diners try to sort out a horrendous familial situation.

Smooth and popular congressman Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) has invited his history teacher younger brother Paul (Steve Coogan) to an exclusive restaurant. Paul is reluctant as they don’t get along but at the insistence of his wife Claire (Laura Linney) they go.

The restaurant and food are as much about presentation as taste. The extravagant courses – presented on screen – are served and introduced by the Maître d’, all just grist for Paul’s antagonistic mill, which he grinds throughout the evening.

Stan’s much younger wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) isn’t comfortable either, with her husband distracted, constantly leaving the table as he scrabbles for votes for a bill he is putting through.
When not distracted by one thing or another, they dine and through the conversation, voice-overs and flashbacks the reason for the meal is revealed, as well as learning about the background to the simmering resentment, and borderline hate that Paul has for Stan.

Paul had a breakdown from which he’s never fully recovered, that manifests itself in one shocking scene, while Stan’s marriages have been founded on sand. Despite their travails they are in touch, albeit uneasily. Their teenage sons are close cousins who have done something terrible that needs to be dealt with, before it goes public.

This isn’t of course about ‘The Dinner’ at all as there’s little eating and only a bit more drinking. There is though talking, a lot of talking, at the table but mostly away from it. It is a stylised, convoluted clutter as Moverman tries to incorporate almost every single possible cinematic narrative trick available, demonstrating his technical prowess if not his skill in engaging an audience, and it becomes very frustrating.

However, the film is partially saved by the performances from the four leads. Gere’s convincing as a man torn between right and wrong, and is just about the only likeable character. Hall knows her job as a congresswoman’s wife, reflects on the diminution of her career but clear who needs who in their relationship, and Linney whose relatively calming demeanour about faces two-thirds through, as she starts to get a full grip on the situation.

Coogan’s role is complex and troubling, of a man constantly wrestling with his thoughts, saying and doing things that are anti-social but in the context of severe mental illness, understandable. The only feeling you can have for him is sympathy though that is sorely tested at times.

The nasty bit is well sign-posted so when finally revealed it’s not much of a shock. But then this is not a horror film, and neither is it much of a thriller, psychological or otherwise. It’s a melodrama that pertains to examine these people’s morals, ethics, family values and loyalties. But the cold, precise Greenawayesque direction alienates to such a degree that any interest in their dilemmas, is soon lost.