The Dinner (Het Diner)
Directed by Menno Meyjes
The Dinner is a guessing-game drama that takes its lead character through an interesting morality struggle and leaves him at an unexpected conclusion.
Purely from a cinephile point of view, one of the fun things about The Dinner is that it's directed by Menno Meyjes. Back in the '80s he was something of a Spielberg protege. As a writer he was, in rapid succession, involved with Amazing Stories, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Dutch filmmaker has gone on to direct several features, including a pair starring John Cusack.
Meyjes returns home for Dinner, with a posh restaurant in Amsterdam serving as a major setting for the story's revelations.
That lead character is Paul (Jacob Derwig), and an interesting character he is indeed. The movie basically starts in a principal's office and it's not clear who's in more trouble, Paul or his son, Michel (Jonas Smulders). Dad's certainly got some issues, and some mighty volatile notions gurgling in his noggin.
For one thing, Paul chooses to look at the bright side of the atrocities of World War II. If you stop to think about, he asserts there is at least one asshole, moron, or derelict in every 100 humans. There’s at least a belligerent relative or some other thorn in the side you'd be happy to see blown up anyway. So, in his theory, a good portion of those killed during the war fall into that "good riddance" category.
That all comes to light while he discusses a paper written by his son, which has some harsh ideas about effective prison systems, including the use of 8th-floor windows as launching pads for the worst of the worst.
Papa Paul, it turns out, used to be a teacher himself. Until he was deemed unfit to teach by way of burnout, which would be a politically correct way to say he was psychologically too unhinged to continue working.
How ironic, given Paul is so flagrantly opposed to framing things in PC terms.
The titular dinner involves Paul, his gorgeous wife, Claire (Thekla Reuten), Paul's brother, Serge (Daan Schuurmans), and his wife, Babette (Kim van Kooten). They surface long-festering resentments while conversationally meandering around a problem that could destroy both families.
Michel and his two brothers-in-law have committed a serious crime. Will it undermine Serge's Den Haag campaign for prime minister? Will the marriages survive?
The situation takes a surprising turn, reversing sympathies as the true character behind the principles is slowly exposed.
The Dinner is based on a book by Herman Koch and there's a bit of a vibe found in another recent adaptation, David Fincher's Gone Girl. As the severity of the situation reveals itself, there's a sense of hopeless, never-ending entrapment.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.