Denial (USA/UK, 2016)

Directed by: Mick Jackson. “Based on a true story”, and somehow that makes it more interesting. Certainly, if they’d just made it up, I wouldn’t care that much, but the fact that there was a woman named Deborah Lipstadt, and she was sued by a Holocaust denier David Irving for libel when she wrote that he was indeed a Holocaust denier, and had to go in court and prove that the Holocaust actually happened and that he actually was lying about it. It’s a simple little premise, but it unearths a pretty huge fountain of philosophical questions about language, about law, about epistemology, what someone knows versus their beliefs, if those distinctions matter, the political importance of fixing this particular belief in place as false or true, etc, etc. And I hate to say “this is even more important in today’s fake-news, alt-facts, Trump world”, but I don’t think it’s lost on anyone watching this movie, the importance of deciding once and for all: “this fucking happened, and if you say it didn’t, you’re a fucking liar.” With this base level of interest, the film could certainly phone it in, and I was kind of expecting this to be one of those movies that isn’t as interesting as its premise, but in fact this was a really compelling, delightful viewing, in large part thanks to all of the amazing performances. This is a great role for Rachel Weisz, perhaps her career-defining role for me. Having only seen her in the John Constantine movie with Keanu Reeves, and I kind of tuned out The Mummy movies and About a Boy, and having seen her do amazing things in a supporting role, most recently in The Lobster, I was pleased to see her carry a movie like this, in my mind, finally! Timothy Spall is amazing here, demonstrating that the magic of a role like this is to sell it, to be believable, that he really thinks he’s right, and he’s stubborn and pompous enough to take this whole thing to court to prove a point. Tom Wilkinson is amazing as always. And it was great to see Andrew Scott start to make space for himself outside of the cartoon character in Sherlock, which is great fun, don’t get me wrong but he’s obviously capable of a lot more. He has to work twice as hard here, because we don’t trust him (we still associate him with evil incarnate in Moriarty), and his unlikeability is a major factor in the film, that Deborah isn’t sure if she can trust him either. With any biographical film, the danger is that people will know what you’re talking about, and they’ll know how it ends. But I didn’t, and I liked it that way. Incidentally, I saw this in a delightful little theatre/bar in Germany, and they were really nice people, so I have to recommend it if you’re in the neighbourhood.

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