I hate to get political in a review, but it’s hard to watch Denial and not think about what’s happening in the current election cycle. A guy with an inflated ego and a propensity for spouting lies and crazy theories manages to convince others that he is being wronged. Sound familiar? That’s sort of what happens in Denial. The film is based on the true story of a legal battle between American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and British historian David Irving (Timothy Spall). In 1996, Irving sued Lipstadt for libel after she called him a liar in her book, “Denying the Holocaust”. Irving claimed the Holocaust never happened, and that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were merely storage units, or used for disinfection. Uh-huh. You’d think that with history and truth on Lipstadt’s side, the law would be too. But it’s not that simple, especially in London, where the burden of proof is on the defense, i.e. Lipstadt.
The film has some excellent performances, most notably from British actor Tom Wilkinson (brilliant as a barrister, though I always get him confused with Albert Finney), and Andrew Scott (Moriarty in TV’s Sherlock) as lawyer Anthony Julius. They are the legal eagles tasked with proving Lipstadt’s case, whereas Irving represented himself (proving the old adage…)
It’s a fascinating story, but unfortunately, a far from fascinating movie. Denial is rather slow in its pacing and short on drama. And I found Rachel Weisz’s performance to be a bit flat, especially as compared to her recent roles in The Light Between Oceans, Complete Unknown, and from what I hear, The Lobster. She comes off as a toned-down Erin Brockovich, albeit with a very distinct Queens, New York accent. In fact, the film is sort of like Erin Brockovich meets twisted Holocaust denier.
Denial is a courtroom drama with an undeniably important message that’s worth exploring, especially in light of current events around the world. I just wish it were able to deliver that message in a more gripping way so as to appeal to a broader audience.