“Denial” Tackles One Of The Most Controversial Trials In Human History

By Scott Kurland

Film: Denial
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Caren Pistorius, and Mark Gatsis
Rated PG-13
Director: Mick Jackson

If there’s one bit of fatherly advice in life that I’ll always be grateful for, its this: never argue with a crazy person. If a person is being illogical, if they refuse to see reason and distort reality, don’t engage with them in a fight. You don’t have to respect their beliefs, you just have to understand they think this way and they are so deep in Narnia they’re eating Turkish delight by the fistful. The reason I bring this up is because this week’s film tells the true story David Irving, a well known Holocaust denier, and his lawsuit against Holocaust Studies Professor Deborah Lipstadt for libel and defamation. The film is called “Denial.” Now, let’s see how good it is shall we?

“Denial” begins with  Emory Unversity Professor Deborah (Rachel Weisz) giving a lecture at Emory about Holocaust deniers and the distorted logic they use to assert that the Holocaust never happened. As a Jewish Woman and a well respected professor of Jewish Studies and the Holocaust, Lipstadt is all too familiar with
the well known denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) who is mentioned numerous times in her book ‘Denying The Holocaust. ' Irving ambushes her at her lecture and, because he’s such a showman, he actually manages to get a few people to take his side. Lipstadt tries to ignore Irving which becomes impossible as he quickly files a lawsuit against her and her publisher Penguin Books for defamation and libel. The catch is that the trial must be held in London, where libel cases are handled very differently. Lipstadt is the one who must prove that she did not wrong Irving and that he is, in fact, the scoundrel she thinks he is. Irving decides to represent himself, while Lipstadt is defended by Barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott). Now, Lipstadt has to fight for her reputation in a foreign country, and must play by rules which she doesn’t quite comprehend. 

“Denial” is one of the most unique films of the year and it proves that, if we look to history and literature for inspiration, we can make great films again. This movie is going to be incredibly controversial mainly because it shows the opinions of both sides; Irving's and Lipstadt's. What will terrify people is how educated and charismatic Irving actually was. “Denial” is paced well, but there are points where the direction seems a little out of left field.

Having directed “Temple Grandin” and “Live from Baghdad” for HBO, director Mick Jackson is no stranger to making films based on real events. However, it is important to note that his resume also includes romantic comedies like “The First $20 Million Is Always The Hardest” and “L.A. Story”.  Given that "Denial" is his first theatrical release in fourteen years, it seems as though Jackson blends both of those styles to make “Denial” work. He takes the real accounts of the trial and the evidence Lipstadt and her team presented in court. However, he also adds in scenes that feel like they’re straight out of “You’ve Got Mail”. For example, there's a scene where Rampton pays Lipstadt a visit after a difficult day in court, because he wants to see where shes living in London. I understand why Jackson made this choice, I truly do. He’s trying to add some humanity to an otherwise dark film. At times it works, and yet other times it kind of takes away from the story at hand. With that said, this is still one of the strongest films of 2016 because the story is so unique and there’s two really strong performances to ground the movie.

If Weisz and Spall are snubbed for Oscars, this will be a downright travesty. Weisz is making a comeback this year, first with “The Lobster”, then with “The Light Between Oceans” and now, “Denial” . All three films have very dark undertones at the heart of them and Weisz delivers every time. Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt is a strong, outspoken professor who must face off against a charismatic, outspoken lecturer and Holocaust denier. Weisz has the most difficult job of anyone in the film because she has to be the audience’s voice. When we question something, Weisz’ Lipstadt then questions it and, like us, struggles to comprehend why everything isn’t black or white like it should be. I always forget how talented Weisz is as an actress. She always morphs so well into every role she’s played. She better be nominated this year along with Timothy Spall.

Every actor who plays a villain has a difficult job. You are the one who has to be hated. You are also responsible for walking that line of charisma and ruthlessness. Timothy Spall is playing a man who is not only a real person, but is a man who constantly denies that the Holocaust even happened. Right off the bat, he’s working with about fifty strikes against him. Not only is he an anti-semite, he’s also a racist, and a misogynist. The list goes on and on. Spall takes this character and rolls with it. He uses everything in his wheel house and goes for broke. And here’s the sick part: Spall actually manages to make this man empathetic. You see how starved for attention he is, and you kind of pity him. Spall was snubbed two years ago for an Oscar nomination for his performance as “Mr. Turner”. I hope the Academy doesn’t make the same mistake twice, because this is a game changing performance and the entire film rests on his character’s insanity.

“Denial” was written by David Hare the Oscar nominated writer of “The Reader, ” which was another film about one’s perception of the events in the Holocaust. Hare’s screenplay is strong and although I don’t agree with some of the choices for scene execution and storytelling techniques, I can recommend this film. This is a great film filled with strong performances from Weisz, Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson, and of course Timothy Spall. This will be a hard to track down, especially since it’s only playing in the city. However, if you can see it, you have to watch how well they do the trial scenes and that nail biting climax. This is a strong, must-see film.

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