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A difficult review.
99% of the time a film is "about" entertainment. No matter how horrible the topic, how wretched the narrative, the argument has always been that, if viewers wanted reality, they would watch a documentary.
So this production would have seen major headwinds going in, and, when you consider the historical record, the topic, and the potential for emotional bias by both those who made the film and whose who see the film, I think overall they have done an admirable job.
The script is tight, so tight you can almost sense the constant rewrites required to make it that way.
The performances are stellar. Rachel Weisz, an actress of remarkable range with a much wider body of work than most realize, takes a lower key than she usually does because the story requires it. One applauds her restraint.
Fortunately Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall (the latter literally played a rat in a Harry Potter film) had no such constraints. Both are brilliant but Wilkinson, one of those many top-tier British actors we take for granted, arguably gives the performance of his life, a performance that could hold its own with any actor in any courtroom drama in the history of British cinema.
To the credit of the writers, although it seemed an impossible feat given that the story was based on known, historical fact, at the 1:35 timestamp they successfully managed to inject suspense into the story by playing on a tricky legal concept known as belief vs. intent. And it works.
The film. like the events it records, is more geared to the historical record than light entertainment.
For those looking -- and I apologize for the carefree use of words -- for an "entertaining" story of the Holocaust, perhaps something to show children, I point to the astonishingly brave film intended for teenagers, The Devils Arithmatic 1999. Worth a look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While Denial is easy to watch and not particularly boring I found it
also unrewarding. The story is a compelling one, especially if one has
a strong interest in history and is familiar with the epistemological
questions raised. Denial, however, allows for little nuance and no
tension, making for a monochromatic experience.
The film's characters are portrayed as each having but a single dimension. Deborah Lipstadt is the crusading Holocaust historian. Of her the audience learns that she's got a Queens accent, goes jogging, loves her dog, but little else. What prompted her to teach this subject? Why publish a book about denial? By way of explanation the film offers that her mother named her Deborah. There is a similar lack of substance to each of the other characters. We are told David Irving's Holocaust denial stems from his childhood in WW II but nothing is said of what motivates him, and nothing of his work on issues such as Dresden or the naval action which saw his father sunk. Anthony Julius is accused of being after his own aggrandizement, but there's nothing in the film to suggest this or to suggest that the viewer should care what his motivations are.
The plot arc is as simple as the characters. Lipstadt is introduced and accused of libel and then for the remainder of the film we watch her legal team go about her defense. With Irving wild-eyed and unpleasant, the Lipstadt team noble and hard-working, there is little doubt of the outcome, even if the viewer is unfamiliar with the case. The one moment of dramatic tension comes at the close of the trial, when a question from the judge seems to throw Lipstadt's defense off balance. While the audience seems intended to worry, at this point with Irving so thoroughly distasteful and Lipstadt and company so noble, dedicated, and devoted to such good wines there can be little doubt of the trial's outcome.
Steven Spielberg is referred to towards the end of the film, and indeed there is a Spielbergesque quality to several scenes, especially the visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau. It is winter. The camp is deserted and frosty with snow. Lipstadt is upset that her lawyers are not sufficiently respectful of the dead. The film's score, the ghostly images of victims descending the gas chamber stairs, a technical expert's injunction to step carefully because the site is hallowed ground, all hammer home to the viewer what must be felt, lest one mistakenly have an illusion of choice. Likewise in the closing scenes Lipstadt goes jogging and triumphantly stands before a female statue. Atop the plinth the camera holds on Winged Victory. At this point my date leaned over to quip that this was in case we weren't clear on what had happened. When a film's devices are chuckled at this is an indication they are perhaps not effective.
Curiously Denial presents Lipstadt's triumph as what she did not do, rather than what was done. At one point a question of conscience is introduced in the person of a Holocaust survivor who demands to testify on behalf of those who did not survive. Lipstadt assures her that she'll have her day in court, despite Julius & Co.'s decision that there will be no survivor testimony (strictly for the survivors' good we are told, as Irving would tear them apart). Lipstadt is torn, and argues for the survivors but in the end she and they must remain silent. Lipstadt's lack of contribution to her own defense is underscored by several exchanges with Julius where she forcefully gives guidance yet is brushed off. Julius and colleague Richard Rampton obviously know what they are doing as they win Lipstadt's case, but the dynamics involved are such that Lipstadt's closing lecture left this viewer a bit confused. We shouldn't be so quick to claim what we'd have done in the place of Germans faced with the Holocaust, Lipstadt's college students hear. In the face of public obloquy fighting evil is hard work they are told. So the right thing to do to resist genocide is to remain silent while one's high-powered lawyers argue in civil court? I left Denial feeling less roused to action than I might have.
What is it about court cases that TV always gets so right and movies
always get so wrong? Denial, a film about an exceptional British libel
case in which defendant Deborah Lipstadt had to prove the Holocaust,
somehow manages to strip the integrity and interest off of this very
exceptional case and make it dry as dust and dull, feeling like more
like a TV show, though I've seen many hour long procedural that have
managed to stir up more emotion in me.
We first meet Deborah (Rachel Weisz sporting a red wig and a loud queens accent), in the early 90s. She's a professor who lectures on the holocaust and she reserves particular venom for holocaust deniers, who she loudly and proudly proclaims she will never debate as she refuses to debate facts, and that the holocaust happened is irrefutable for her.
Deborah is quite happy with the work she does, but David Irving (Timothy Spall, appropriately slimy), is outraged that she has singled out him in particular. Well, it's more of a faux outrage. He uses her to gain publicity, gate-crashing one of her lectures to scream the holocaust never happened and eventually, worming his way into "debating" her, by suing her UK publisher for libel. The twist here is that in British courts, unlike in the U.S., it is the defendant who must prove what they said was true, rather than the plaintiff proving what they sad was false. Deborah is at first flabbergasted, but then heartened as she realizes that settling is not an option and that it is possible that she can prove that Irving is a bigot, not a proper historian once and for all.
The problem is the script which has Deborah lashing out repeatedly at her own legal team for not respecting the survivors and the history repeatedly, even though they tell her repeatedly that to try to "prove" the holocaust happened would be arguing on Irving's terms. Instead they argue that Irving is a bigot, falsely manipulating facts to prove his own theories. Deborah flies in the face of her legal team multiple times, but this has the effect of making her look stupid and arrogant as she fights their very reasonable advice. I also got the impression that the film was trying to make a point about reasoned approaches being important instead of impassioned ones, but it is also very clear that the members of Deborah's legal team care just as much about holocaust survivors and are just as disgusted by Irving but are approaching it a different way and Deborah is making it difficult for them to do their jobs. In their own restrained ways they are just as impassioned about the work they are doing and this really has the effect of making Deborah look silly.
The other thing is that the kind of slow-working case that the defence put on (the trial lasted for over a month), isn't very cinematic. Watching the movie I felt how much I wanted to read Lipstadt's book when this was all over. a movie simply doesn't have the time a book does to really reach into the details of the case and the "highlights" and "victories" seldom feel very cinematic though I'm sure they felt dramatic and wonderful in real life.
I will say that the acting was solid. The three lead actors Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall don't put in career best work, but they are all solid performers and turn in good performances. They are the saving grace in a movie which takes an emotional subject and somehow makes it dull.
For reasons unknown, I chose to take a chance on this one and was quite
humbled. Let me be 100% clear here in saying that I most certainly was
not in the demographic with which this film likely intended.
Don't be deceived fellow viewers; this movie is very much both drama and suspense. And nothing more. But that's OK!
A Holocaust Denier from the United Kingdom represents himself in court in an effort to disprove the tragedy ever took place. A young Jewish American activist willingly takes it upon herself to go to court for the sake of history as well as Jewish people everywhere.
I enjoyed Rachel Weisz performance. Probably her most recent work in the 2015 Italian hit "Youth" comes to mind. Denial has shown Weisz is more than capable of carrying a motion picture on her own!
Timothy Spall plays the elder protagonist. With a strong body of exemplary supporting performances, Denial has been no exception.
Tom Wilkinson is another strong addition to the cast, portraying a widely successful British lawyer named Richard Rampton, his performance easily stole the show.
3. FINAL THOUGHT:
The material felt real and very tastefully done. Instead of hating Spall's character, I actually found myself feeling sorry for him. I sympathized as to the likelihood of just how truly awful a childhood some must have had to make such appalling claims.
The directors clearly have given a lot of thought into this film. This film avoids the temptation to let the emotionally charged content dictate its direction. Smartly, they didn't get lost in the horrific details of what took place (because everyone knows just how awful it was AND many movies have done a great job covering this aspect).
It's always a good sign when the credits roll and your mind begins to reflect on what just took place over the last 109 minutes. I urge everyone to give it a chance. I really enjoyed this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I consider myself fairly open minded. Having actually watched David
Irving give a presentation (courtesy of Youtube) I can tell you that
the real man is articulate, deadpan humorous, not given to outbursts,
and reasonably photogenic. I found it difficult to get past the very
biased and untruthful portrayal of his personality and demeanor (no
matter what his views) in the opening scenes where he is shown as a
football hooligan type ugly man with a ratchet no less, which he twirls
every time he says something. It never got any better.
I'm not going to get into the subject matter itself, because it is a criminal offence to hold contrary views in many jurisdictions. But why did the 'point of view' leave the delousing room just as the professor started to ask some penetrating questions? Was there a dispute about this during filming?
It's hard to review a movie that take upon a very important historical
subject that actually happened. For all those reasons, this is a great
movie to watch as it is thought-provoking and dramatic.
Unfortunately not due to the quality of the movie itself.
My first feeling while watching the movie was how TV-like, i.e. not cinematic it all felt. The use of colour, the use of music which I found not very placed and very stereotypical, the lack of introduction of characters and as someone already mentioned, lack of exploring their depth. At times if felt like the movie tried to be all things at once - and that it failed to be integrated within its cinematography, storytelling and direction.
Acting was really good from all main actors, Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott. However, it all fell flat as there was literally no investigation of their depth. I thought, especially the judge deserved more time on the screen to investigate his motivations and background. But Rachel Weisz character and Timoty Spall's Irving character deserved especially more reveal in terms of their driving force behind their life choices and values. I would be especially eager to see what drove people like Irving to deny such an obvious historical fact as holocaust is.
For all those reasons, I'd say it's a mediocre movie but I'd still recommend it for pure historical reference and subject it deals with.
I'd really love to see the same subject made by different directors and writers and producers, as it deserved better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a complex and cerebral drama, so I would say if you're looking
for an escape flick or are bored easily you may want to avoid this one.
The filmmakers, director Mick Jackson and writer David Hare, seemingly
are purposely trying to avoid dramatic gimmickry, instead asking us to
use our brain cells and think.
The film, based on a true story, focuses on the libel suit brought by Holocaust denier David Irving vs.Emory Professor Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books. In the subsequent trial, held in London's High Court, it will be up to Lipstadt and her attorneys, to prove that she did not defame Irving in her book "Denying the Holocaust". One thing is for sure, I certainly learned quite a bit regarding the differences between English and American law.
There's a superb all-star cast here, which includes Rachel Weisz,Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, and Andrew Scott. I thought Spall was terrific as Irving, and Wilkinson also stood out as Lipstadt's in court attorney Richard Rampton.
Overall, although this movie is not for everyone and it does have some rough edges, I still found it quite interesting and would recommend it to those viewers that feel like getting into a cerebral drama on occasion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What hit me was the line by Tom Wilkinson - "Why has there not been a
proper scientific study of this whole site
fifty years after the fact?" That's a good - and fair -
These 'Holocaust' driven movies never fail to leave me a little empty. I do understand that exact numbers (body count) is near impossible to compile. However ... usually what is left out ... or mentioned vaguely ... is the other 5-7 million non-Jews murdered by the NAZI's. Why is that? Do they not count? Should they not be remembered too? Anyway ...
I'm not clear on what this movies was representing ... The legal system in the UK? ... David Irving is a convicted liar (in the UK)? ... The (many) lunatics lose in our society? Clearly (if the movie is accurate) David Irving set out to use this case as means to 'spotlight' (market?) his re-engineered history. Is this what we are to walk away with? Or is it that he failed? At best this should, at least, get some open - honest - exchanges on this subject? After all ... 'Eugenics' isn't going away and this does need to be exposed?
I hugely enjoyed this film. I remember this case when it was happening
and I followed it in the papers at the time. Irving embarked on this
because he craves attention and loved "performing" in court. I think
Timothy Spall portrayed Irving superbly well.
I think the film presented the locations and characterisations with some stereotyping, but it is such a success in general that I did not mind. Rachel Weisz plays Deborah Lipstadt as a feisty American who doesn't like to bow as part of court proceedings for example. Maybe this is true of Deborah Lipstadt, but the British lawyers all rather fitted a stereotype of British people. But as I said, I didn't mind, in fact I rather enjoyed the portrayals because it is such a fine film.
This film has a very tight script and really first class performances from all the actors. There wasn't drama to be had in the outcome of the trial, because most people know how it ended, however there was plenty of drama in the different opinions as to how Lipstadt's defence should proceed. In that drama a great deal is revealed about motivations of the key characters, about the desire to fight for justice in a heroic high profile way on one hand, and about the way to obtain justice by being quiet and letting the other side talk their way into defeat.
I think the film is very relevant today as we see so much dishonesty from holocaust deniers making assertions about the holocaust to undermine its place as a historic event. The film takes apart one or two of Irving's assertions and it is good to see that these dishonest assertions can be dismantled with analysis.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just compare this to some of the ponderous and/or mediocre winners of
the Academy Awards Best Picture and I think that Denial stands up very
favorably. I would describe this as a very Hollywood movie but I am one
of the few people who don't think that as an insult. In the best of
cases (like this film) by "Hollywood" I mean professional at every step
and very watchable. Who in their right mind would ever watch Birdman
I can't remember everything that I saw in 2016 but I would have to rate Denial among the top of the very short list of movies I liked. I just think that for a change we have people who understand the strengths and limitations of feature films and this kind of story is best told in 90 minutes or so. I can't count how many awful films and TV series I have seen in which the creators have no idea of just how long they need to tell whatever story they have. So many movies try to pack way too much into a 90 minute feature and fail on every level while many TV series think they have carte blanche to go on for eternity, or they lose all of their viewers. Get to the point, tell your story, and then wrap it up.
This was a good story without being overly-ambitious, a few great characters with Tom Wilkinson stealing the show (again), and a good villain.
There were too many shots of Rachel Weisz running with her dog and the final scene was really horrible.
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