Much as we don’t like to be (so many people boast that they’re not), we are all judgmental, and this is one of those rare movies that subtly propels you from one stern point of view to its opposite and at the end leaves you uncertain about where you stand. Paul (Steve Coogan) is a history teacher, his brother Stan (Richard Gere), a wealthy congressman campaigning to be governor.
With their wives Claire and Katelyn (Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall), they meet at an exclusive ‘food art’ restaurant in New York one night to decide what they will do about a crime that has been committed by their teenage sons. The movie takes a while to get to the nub of the question, with flashbacks to the bad history between the two men that governs their relationship.
One of the sons involved in the incident that the parents need to deal with is a despicable, indulged child, but he is also on the end of a long line of mental instability in the family. Off his medication, Paul, who just doesn’t want to be there, is insufferably rude and dismissive of Michael’s political smarminess, whereas Michael, who in a lot of situations such as this would be written as the villain simply because of his career choice, maintains a realpolitik dignity that strives at all times for balance (I could not help, despite myself, being on his side).
Linney’s Claire is a mother of classic Greek ferocity when it comes to protecting her son, and Katelyn is the trophy-wife who finds a voice at the eleventh hour. There is so much happening in this movie – a snide put-down of the cult of food and wine while still finding a soft heart for those involved in it, a contemptuous observance of class, a hurtful look at the brittleness of family ties and, more than anything, a realisation that, absorbed in our own day-to-day existence, none of us know what the hell is going on with everybody else.