Steve Coogan is at a fancy dinner, but he's not doing any Michael Caine impressions. Instead, he's brooding with resentment of his workaholic congressman brother, Stan (Richard Gere), and grappling with the realization that his son might be a psychopath. It's all supposed to be harrowing, and the British comedian certainly might have pulled off the serious role of the unreliable narrator in this dark family drama if it weren't for director Oren Moverman's apparent insistence that he stay somewhat in character as "Steve Coogan" from The Trip. The result is a disastrous tonal mismatch.
Coogan's characterization isn't the only thing jarring about this adaptation of Herman Koch's novel of the same name, about two couples meeting over dinner to discuss a horrendous episode involving their kids. The dinner itself is constantly disrupted by long-winded flashbacks. The beauty of a single-location thriller is how the tension escalates in containment, but Moverman fails to seize that built-in advantage.
There have been two previous big-screen versions (Dutch and Italian) of Koch's book, but this is the first American adaptation, and it has the most noteworthy cast: Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall play wives to Coogan and Gere, respectively; Chloë Sevigny makes a brief appearance as Gere's ex-wife. Third time's a charm, supposedly, but Moverman doesn't know what to do with the page-turner source material. Set up with title cards, from apéritif to digestif, The Dinner should have momentum, but it's not until the cheese course -- after the entrée -- that things start to pick up.