“The Dinner”

This operatic film structured on a dinner from aperitif through digestif will take you on a morality ride close to Dante’s Inferno. Terrifically acted, scripted and choreographed from the 2009 Dutch novel, ” The Dinner” by Herman Koch, was first translated in English in 2012. The film, directed by Oren Moverman, centers on psychopathic teens, and it ignites all 311 pages of Koch’s psychological thriller cum satire.

The film begins with a cracking sound, like a glass slowly splintering. Images of plated food, cemetery graves, more plated food, and delinquent teenaged boys in a pool hall set up an outline of sorts. We see Steve Coogan looking down from a second story porch, and he becomes an Oscar contender with his portrayal of a mentally disturbed former history teacher with a tons of emotional baggage.

While the upscale restaurant server overly explains the “crayfish dressed in a vinaigrette of tarragon and baby green onions and chanterelles”, Paul looks at the small portions and chides ” drizzle of famine”.

At first, we are inclined to identify with Coogan’s Paul Lohman. His brother Stan is a charmer, a Senaor, who portrays himself as a man of the people~ only better! He is Paul’s older, more successful brother, and a hard act to follow. Paul’s bitter resentment and ascerbic tongue soon becomes more than gentle mockery. This is not a healthy man.

Paul’s brother Stan has parlayed a table at a restaurant with a six to eight month waiting list. It is here that the two with their current wives are to hash out what to do about their 16-year-old sons and the horrifying act they have committed. There is a manhunt for the evil-doers, but the cousins remain unidentified. Who knows what, and who does what becomes the film’s central focus.

Director and writer Oren Moverman’s words are as caustically modern and brutal as any put to screen.  The themes of delusion and self-interest hold a warning here. Inchoate prejudice and class priviledge rise to the surface. Mental health and family negotiations are sub-themes. This is a film which may be better than the book in guiding the viewer to disgust and outrage. Ironically, the privileged Senator Lohman, played remarkably by Richard Gere may be the only moral person in the bunch.

Marketed with the come-on, “How far would you go to protect your child?” “The Dinner” delves into the terrain of deviant children and their aftermath. Told in flashback and with unreliable narration, this doesn’t feel like an American film. Artful frames of mind-crazed visuals are both starkly colored and sometimes muted and triple-focused. If you haven’t read the book, you will have to work here. Listen carefully to the well-paced script, and beware of the crazy step-moms. Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall will chill your blood as much as their callous killer stepsons do. I found “The Dinner” an art film with deplorable characters creating a cinematic tension that is not to be missed.

When the words, ” the system will fail them, we won’t” , and ” you are making someone else’s tragedy ours” are spoken, we feel like we understand what is wrong with the world. The final scene with the family members all in cell phone chorus throws ” The Dinner” into a farce for the twenty-first century.

“The Gift”

Wishing for a domestic thriller akin to last summer’s “Gone Girl” ?  Try the well-filmed and well-written and well-acted Joel Edgerton movie,”The Gift”. The 41-year-old Aussie wrote, starred and ,for the first time, directed a slow-burning psychological thriller that is “Pacific Heights” scary and “Fatal Attraction” obsessive. Plus,the ambition ethic of getting ahead at all costs is knocked a good punch.

The camera rolls in slow motion as we are introduced to Simon and Robyn (Justin Bateman and Rebecca Hall) electing to buy a mid-century-modern, glass home. Lots of light and Windex won’t give this couple clear views or intimacy as long as they keep up their respective lies. The music is ominous like the genre demands. The motif of transparency is nicely sprinkled throughout the film with steamy shower -surface -wipes and hearts drawn on glass after hot breaths. Attention to detail is this movie’s strength, while “there is more to what you see” is made clear.

While our couple is purchasing a throw rug, we see through wine glass displays that a man is staring. Even the clerk notices. The man advances and queries Simon with “don’t I know you?” Simon looks flummoxed and our writer-director-actor, Joel Edgerton, introduces himself as Gordon Mosley,or Gordo, a high school classmate of Simon’s. With all the principles on-screen, the secrets and deceptions keep the audience guessing. Gift giving turns into perversion. Surprise after surprise!

One of the ploys of scary movies is how normal,familiar activities like brushing your teeth or opening a box or attending a baby shower can lull you into identification. The way that Simon and Rebecca share their concerns about “Weirdo Gordo” with neighbors and work friends has all of them brain-storming how the couple should handle the intrusive Gordo. Simon says they should “rip off the band-aid” and cut all ties. Bateman plays the masterful husband well. We are more used to his 1980 sitcoms and his “Bad Words” persona. Here, as Simon, former high school class president, he is uncovered as a class bully,too. A horrifying abuse twenty years ago is clarified, a revenge plot is partially unhatched,and a pill-popping wife loses all trust in her husband’s fabrications. But the gifts keep coming! There are cars chases and hospital races and an abruptly closed curtain in the glass enclosed nursery.

Gordo uses Simon’s own top-dog vocabulary and tone in his revenge plot. “I’m going to power through this, or should I” is particularly satisfying. Edgerton’s acting,his use of blue-light night photography, and Wagnerian opera music is noteworthy.

Rebecca Hall plays submissive well, but her unlocking secrets in the most ordinary way and then magically deciding on key life moves is strong,resourceful and brave. Last seen and reviewed in the sci-fi drama “Transcendence” (4.29.15) as Evelyn Caster, Hall is a British actress who is subtle with emotion, yet forthright in action. I loved the gift-boxed pregnancy test stick and her offer to give up the monkey wind-up so spontaneously. Remember the saw that “good people deserve good things” and see this well-crafted tale.