“I have a 22-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son,” says Oren Moverman, director of The Dinner, a film based on a 2009 book that by his own admission “asks a question that is really hard to answer, and that is ‘how far would you go to protect your kids when they have done something wrong?’”
“There are arguments that are really impossible to solve,” says Moverman. “It puts you in a position where you can’t imagine how you would react if this were to happen to your kids. The book tries to provoke the reader and make them question how they would deal in this situation. There is no answer, no one knows what they would do if this were to happen. What the film tries to show is that family drama and trauma can affect anyone. You can look at them as horrible kids, but they still don’t understand what is real yet.”
Based on the best-selling Dutch novel by Herman Koch, Moverman has adapted the story to the US with an all-star cast, including Steve Coogan, Richard Gere, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall.
At the centre of Koch’s book and now this film is an incident taken straight out of the news headlines that is so divisive audiences will be split right down the middle, just like the film’s protagonists: Steve Coogan’s liberal history teacher and his ambitious politician brother played by Richard Gere, and their respective partners played by Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall. This foursome gets together in a posh restaurant, and through flashback we discover the details of the divisive incident, along with so much else.
“The number of things that were happening in the story is really unusual for an American film, but I couldn’t resist packing it full of these relationships and themes,” says Moverman about marriage, mental illness, racism and so much else that is going on in The Dinner. “The book had a cool structure because it was written through a [dining] course of flashbacks and family history, so I was interested in pushing that structure. It’s one of those movies that tries to do a lot, it tries to provoke and bring together that noise. The movie itself tries to imitate Paul’s [Coogan] state of mind, so at times it doesn’t seem very logical, sometimes it actually falls apart like the movie is having a nervous breakdown with Paul on screen. It involved a lot of playing with form, trying to create a movie that will keep you on edge.”
To finance such complex stories is never easy, but it helped that high profile cast were interested in working on it with Moverman. “I had been working with Richard Gere on a bunch of projects [including 2014’s homeless tale, Time Out of Mind], so I asked him if he wanted to be involved and he jumped in quite early. Steve Coogan was an idea that came through the agents while we were looking, and he responded almost immediately. We originally had one character that was playing Richard Gere’s wife, but then we decided to split it into two characters [Chloe Sevigny pops up briefly], using flashbacks to view his first wife. It was a really organic process.”
Born in Israel but moving to America after a compulsory stint in the army, Oren Moverman “had the idea that maybe I wanted to be a film director, the only problem was that I didn’t know what a film director does, but I’ve been pursuing film ever since.”
Getting his foot in the door as a production assistant, Moverman got a big break when his script for 1999’s Jesus’ Son was produced. More writing gigs followed, but it was 2009’s powerhouse The Messenger, which he co-wrote and directed that really put him on the map. Nominated for Oscars and featuring Woody Harrelson’s finest performance, it was followed by 2011’s Rampart, co-written with James Ellroy and even more morally complex than The Messenger.
“I just have to be real with myself with the work that I am producing,” Moverman answers when we ask him why he gravitates towards such challenging material. “In the end, I just want to pursue something that is meaningful to me, and is hopefully meaningful to others too.”
The Dinner is in cinemas September 7, 2017