I don't know and will never fully understand the ground that people seek when it comes to tragedies of a grand scale, and trying to convince people that what they are seeing is not what it appears to be. It's thrived since the September 11 attacks, but the first such event where people voraciously speak counter to was the Holocaust. Similar to 9/11 those who have spoken against the truth seem to have found a receptive audience and have cottage industries around it. They have become so large that their arguments have crept into their subconscious to the point where they believe them factual, and it's in this subconscious of a Holocaust denier that spawns the genesis for the film Denial.
David Hare (The Reader) adapted Deborah Lipstadt's book into a screenplay that Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) directed, and based on true events. The film centers on Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz, Oz the Great and Powerful), a professor in Georgia and author who has debunked the work of Holocaust deniers. At a book signing one day she is confronted by the most renowned in this area, a man named David Irving (Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner). Irving eventually sues Lipstadt and the UK published of her upcoming book for libel in the hopes of not having it published in Great Britain, and the film chronicles those proceedings.
The film has a formidable task in front of it, in that it has to make the viewer care about something that was daft on premise when it was attempted in real-life; seeing Irving try to ram through such baseless charges despite having no merit. And to Hare and Jackson's credit, the British legal system's strange way of trying libel cases certainly ensures that, as Lipstadt serves as the defendant in the case where she has the burden of proof. Irving represents himself against Lipstadt's team (David vs. Goliath is used more than once), Lipstadt's team decides to not allow her to testify, or any of the survivors, for fear of providing Irving ammunition legally or even optically. Both the events in the case and the decisions made by the group add to Lipstadt's frustration, which Weisz conveys more than effectively.
In many moments for that matter, Weisz' frustration and the way she expresses this lack of power would prove to be the main challenge she has to attack, and her performance is such that is works very well. One of her lawyers, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott, Victor Frankenstein) serves as the logic for the legal reasoning, but it's Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson, The Green Hornet) who serves as her emotions. He handles the questioning and the case and Wilkinson's performance is a welcome reminder of the actor's capabilities. Irving's confrontation with Lipstadt is more of an ambush, so that combined with footage of Irving at other events makes him easy to dislike, and Spall does a solid job in that way.
It is hard to tell if Denial was sold as a courtroom drama or as an exploration on the battle someone endures when dealing with an opponent whose passion for the other side is far more disproportionate than actual truth, and if there was something holding the film back, it's that even it didn't seem to know what it was. Putting together a second/third act conflict was a bit pained for the story because of it, and also because the actual legal decision was a bit of a slam dunk (at 300 pages, no less). It does weaken the film to a degree and the communicating of Lipstadt's struggle to persevere is a little half-hearted as is and it's visible.
The film does handle the right moments in the right way (a visit to Auschwitz by Lipstadt and her legal team is handled perfectly in the film), and at the end of the day Denial is simply a good film, with good performances by Weisz and Wilkinson. The problem is with many other films like it is that it could have been even better. In a way that mirrors the discussion we have about huge events like this and 9/11. When you respond with simple truths, there's not much light left to hold anything up to.The Blu-ray:
Universal presents Denial with an AVC encode to befit its 2.40:1 widescreen presentation, and it looks quite good. Image detail in textures on the streets is discernible and in clothing by the characters (and powder in the court wigs!). Colors are reproduced nicely be it the greys of the London clouds or the greens and reds of Georgia, or the winter snow when the group visits Auschwitz. The lights in Lipstadt's eyes when Irving confronts her are intentionally blinding but they don't run too hot on the disc and I had little qualm about it.The Sound:
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track does what is called upon for this straightforward, dialogue-driven courtroom drama. There are moments where the environmental action is reproduced faithfully and sounds convincing (such as the London rain, or the eerie silence during the Auschwitz visit), and the dialogue is consistent and clear and doesn't require much user adjustment. Doesn't have much to do but what it does, it does just fine.Extras:
You get a quick (3:42) look at the making of the film and the film's trailer (2:32) but otherwise, a standard definition disc and digital copy.Final Thoughts:
Denial does have portions where Weisz and Wilkinson stake their claims in the ground for truth and weather the storms well, but in trying to stick to handling these things in court they wound up dealing with storylines 1 and 1A, rather than picking one portion of the road, they harmed themselves more than they helped. Technically the disc is OK but I could have used a bit more extras (a real-life drama and a 4-minute EPK is all we get?). Regardless, it's definitely worth seeing.