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A fine quartet of actors chew through some difficult material in "The Dinner," a talky morality tale that is less than the sum of its parts.

The main story takes place in an expensive restaurant, where two couples are gathering for some important conversation over gourmet food and glasses of wine. The event has been called by Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), a popular congressman who is shepherding a mental-health bill through Congress while also in the midst of a campaign for governor.

While Stan and his second wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), make their way to the restaurant, Stan's brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife, Claire (Laura Linney), have already arrived. Paul is a history teacher and sometime historian, specializing in the battle of Gettysburg. Paul, whose mental-health issues are revealed as the story unfolds, has long been resentful of Stan for being more successful and (in Paul's view) more loved by their mother.

The reason Stan has called everyone together is that his son Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and Paul and Claire's son Michael (Charlie Plummer) have committed a foul crime. The video of their act has gone viral, horrifying the nation. But the boys aren't identifiable in the video, and it's possible they will get away with it.

The question Stan wants settled — what should they, as the parents, do about it? — becomes muddled as Paul's animosity toward Stan, Katelyn's concern for Stan's political future, and Claire's fierce maternal instincts all come into play.

Writer-director Oren Moverman ("The Messenger"), adapting Dutch author Herman Koch's novel, crafts an intriguing dialogue about haves and have-nots — focusing on the boys' sense of rich-kid privilege, but also on the contrast between Stan's position of power and Paul's impotence as a father and husband. He also plays up the irony that this morality play happens amid the ostentatious opulence of the multicourse dinner.

The script's structure gives the four leads plenty of room to work, and the results vary. Gere is a bit stiff, while Coogan comes off as overly manic. Hall's restraint is nicely matched by Linney's, until some late scenes where Claire's Lady Macbeth streak comes out.

The problem with "The Dinner" is that all those elements — the morality story, the social commentary and the acting — don't pull together into a cohesive whole. The ingredients are there, but the final dish is something of a mess.

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'The Dinner'

Two brothers and their wives gather for good food and a hard talk in this uneven drama.

Where • Area theaters.

When • Opens Friday, May 5.

Rating • R for disturbing violent content and for language throughout.

Running time • 120 minutes.