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“Denial” is the perfect film to open the week of the first Presidential debate

On Monday evening, the first of three Presidential debates was held, pitting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, against businessman Donald Trump, the Republican candidate. This Friday, the historical drama Denial opens, and they’re kind of a perfect pairing. Politics aside, there’s a fundamental frustration when it seems like only one side is using facts in their argument, and that’s a central theme in Denial. Though it’s about a historian going up against a Holocaust denier, you can easily see the parallels. A decade ago, this would have been a surefire awards contender. This year, it’s a bit more of a fringe player, but it’s definitely a solid film and one well worth seeing.

The movie centers on the surreal legal battle that author and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) endured when she was sued for libel by noted Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall). She’s taken him to task in a book of hers, and Irving sues her in the United Kingdom, where the burden of proof is reversed from that of the United States. Lipstadt teams with legal minds Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) to take Irving down. If she wins, she’ll prove that you can’t deny facts. If she loses, she’ll give conspiracy theorists of all sorts a whole new platform. Mick Jackson directs a script from David Hare, who adapted Lipstadt’s own book. The supporting cast includes Alex Jennings, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Harriet Walter, and more. Behind the camera handling the cinematography is Haris Zambarloukos, while Howard Shore contributes the score. It’s all very classy stuff, though perhaps a bit funnier than you’d ever expect.

What I liked is how they let the real words do the talking here. What that means is that the trial’s actual transcript is used, allowing Irving’s own words to damn him. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for most movies that take place within a courtroom, but even adjusting for that extra feather in its cap for me, this is still quality entertainment. It’s enjoyable, funny, and most of all, important. Again, in another era, perhaps even just a decade or so ago, this might have turned into a frontrunner, but these days it might struggle to find an audience. That takes nothing away from its worthiness as a bit of cinema, but it’s just worth making note of.

Awards may be hard to come by for this flick, but there’s always a chance. If the box office is solid, look for a campaign to be launched. Categories given a push could include Best Picture, Best Director (for Jackson), Best Actor (for Spall, though he’s likely Supporting), Best Actress (for Weisz), Best Supporting Actor (for potentially Spall and/or Wilkinson), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Hare), and Best Film Editing. Realistically, it’s only going to be in play for Weisz in Actress or Spall if he goes Supporting. That Supporting Actor nomination might be its best hope, but would take a lot for it to happen. We shall see, I guess.

Overall, this week brings a very solid legal drama to theaters in Denial, one that pays tribute to an interesting recent period in history. The film is a fine example of real life being dramatized for cinematic disposal. Is it going to change the medium? No. Is it going to wind up on Top Ten lists everywhere at the end of the year? No. It’s just a well made movie that deserves to find an audience. In a few days, it will hit theaters and attempt to find one. If it does, perhaps it’ll wind up with a bigger following. Stay tuned to see how that goes…

Be sure to check out Denial, beginning its theatrical run in limited release this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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