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Movie Review: "Denial"

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Denial

Theatrical Release: 10/21/2016

Theatrical Release: 10/21/2016

Synopsis

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a professor in America who specializes in studying the Holocaust. During one of her speeches, she is interrupted by a man named David Irving (Timothy Spall). David Irving is a scholar who studies Nazi Germany, and is also a Holocaust denier. At least, that is what Deborah Lipstadt has labeled him in her book, as well as regularly in her rhetoric during speeches.

David Irving has filed a libel lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt in the United Kingdom, where—unlike in the United States—the burden of proof falls on the accused. In order to succeed—getting the libel lawsuit dropped—Deborah Lipstadt must do two things. First, she must prove that the Holocaust happened—something that will turn out to be more difficult to prove than one would assume. Second, she must prove that David Irving has knowingly misrepresented data—something that will be even harder to prove. Perhaps she could accept a settlement and stop labeling David Irving as a Holocaust denier in her material. However, Deborah Lipstadt will not allow someone like David Irving to openly deny the horrors of the Holocaust and then bully those who speak the truth.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

The ProsThe Cons

The Premise (+8pts)

The Main Character (-2pts)

The Performances (+5pts)

Slow (-5pts)

Auschwitz (+6pts)

Focus (-4pts)

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Pro: The Premise (+8pts)

I was both fascinated and dumbfounded that anyone could possibly claim that the Holocaust never happened. It made this such an interesting movie, because it forces you to confront such an ideology along with the protagonists of the movie. On top of that, I was surprised to find how difficult it could be to prove that the Holocaust did happen. We justifiably just accept that it happened as common knowledge, so to try to prove it is an absurd thing to have to do. It was so fascinating to see how the main characters tried to do so, as it ended up being very difficult for them to find the evidence they needed for their case.

What made this even more compelling was that the trial was held in the U.K. where it is the responsibility of the accused to prove innocence. In this case, the accused had to prove that the Holocaust happened, and had to prove that David Irving deliberately falsified historical information to do deny it. This being a true story made it so frustrating to know that such a person as David Irving really exists, and that he is not alone. It also made it incredibly satisfying to watch the defendants try to prove this guy wrong. It was a story that I have not seen told before, and it was incredibly easy to get invested in, while also being incredibly easy to root for the protagonists.

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Con: The Main Character (-2pts)

A minor issue I had with the movie was that the main character (Rachel Weisz) did not seem to do much once arriving to London. Instead, her lawyers pretty much handled everything themselves. While I understand that this was based on a true story, and that this was probably how it happened in real-life, it made for a main character that felt irrelevant in her own story. She came across as a strong-willed character, but did nothing to show that. If this was really how everything played out in real-life, that is fine, but the filmmakers should have slightly altered her story to give her something relevant to do. This is a movie, and the main character needs to feel relevant. If they were not willing to alter the story to give Deborah more of a role in this case, then they should have made the lawyers the main characters of this movie instead.

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Pro: The Performances (+5pts)

Really all of the performances in this movie were great, but Timothy Spall as David Irving was something special. He portrayed this man in a way that made it obvious that he was not simply wrong about the Holocaust. He was very clearly in denial and wanted history to be remembered in a way that was in line with his beliefs, even if that meant fudging the truth. Being a historian that studied Adolf Hitler as a specialty, David Irving was simply too biased and too stubborn to admit that Adolf Hitler could have done what he did. David Irving was a pretty complex and compelling character, and Timothy Spall portrayed him well.

Then there were Rachel Weisz and Richard Rampton who were great in their respective roles as well. I could feel the weight of the Holocaust on their characters' shoulders, and could feel how emotionally invested they were in making sure the truth won this fight. They simply could not wrap their heads around the fact that someone could just blatantly deny such an important and horrific part of our history, and I was right there with them in that sentiment. There were also the heavy scenes that took place at Auschwitz, but I will get into that a bit later. This movie was filled with great performances, but these three—Timothy Spall, Rachel Weisz, and Richard Rampton—were the notable standouts.

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Con: Slow (-5pts)

There is no sense in beating around the bush here, this movie was a slow-burn if there ever was one. I thought this movie was heavy, dramatic, and thought-provoking, but it moved along at what felt like a snail’s pace. It was interesting, but there were definitely long sections where it felt like nothing was happening. I understand that this was a true story, so understand that there may not have been anything “exciting” that happened in these sections of the story, but I think the movie would have benefited greatly if the filmmakers either took some creative liberties, or moved these slower sections of the story along. Instead, they delivered an interesting story that was definitely boring at times.

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Pro: Auschwitz (+6pts)

This was a relatively short part of the movie. It was probably only five or ten minutes if I had to guess, but it was such a heavy few scenes that it sticks with you long after the scenes end. I do not want to give away much from this part of the movie, so that you can go into it as fresh as these characters did. This was, however, a powerful few scenes for a few different reasons.

First, was the silence. There was no background music, and no characters talked during some long shots so that you—the viewer—are left to process it yourself. There was an incredible weight in this silence, and I think the filmmakers made a great choice in portraying these scenes in this way. Second, it was very interesting to see what precautions were taken by the Nazis to ensure that no one would know what happened there. It was even more interesting to watch our main characters trying to find proof regardless of the Nazis‘ precautions. Experiencing this scene this way sucked me right into the main characters’ shoes, which let me feel what they were feeling and made for a really powerful section of this movie.

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Con: Focus (-4pts)

There was a compelling story here, but the filmmakers struggled to focus on it properly. This inevitably resulted in a conclusion that was a lot less impactful than it could have been. Was this movie about Deborah Lipstadt? If so, then she should have been given more to do. Was this movie about the lawyers? If so, then the filmmakers should have focused more on them and less on Deborah.

Was this movie supposed to be about David Irving and his denial of the Holocaust? If so, then David Irving should have been given more focus and less should have been given to the logistics of the justice system in the United Kingdom. There was a lot going on in this story, and the filmmakers did not seem to know what to focus on. The result was a conclusion that felt somewhat anti-climactic, as the necessary parts of the rising action did not get the focus that they needed. Given the heavy material that the movie was dealing with throughout all of the rising action, the hope was that the conclusion of this movie would be impactful, and it just was not. I think a lot of that has to do with the filmmakers’ struggle to focus on the things that would most benefit this story's climax.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B- (83pts)

Denial was about a man—David Irving—who denied that the Holocaust ever happened, and a woman—Deborah Lipstadt—who publicly called him out for it. When David Irving hit Deborah Lipstadt with a libel lawsuit in the United Kingdom, Deborah then had to try to find proof that the Holocaust happened. This would prove to be more challenging than was anticipated, and she would have to do it while also proving that David Irving deliberately falsified historical information to support his denial. It is crazy that anyone in this time period could deny that the Holocaust happened, which made it interesting to confront such a person in this movie.

Timothy Spall did a great job as David Irving, and Rachel Weisz did a great job as Deborah Lipstadt. The two had to cover some pretty heavy material in very different ways, but both did a great job with their respective parts. Then there were the scenes that took place in Auschwitz, which were very powerful scenes. It was incredibly interesting to see how difficult it was for these characters to try to prove something that is so commonly accepted as fact—the Holocaust—when the Nazis tried so hard to cover it up. I had my issues with this story—-such as the film’s focus related issues, the slow pace, and the fact that Deborah seemingly had very little to do in her own story—but it was an interesting story that was filled with strong performances. While it certainly could have been better, I still thought it was a decent movie.