Based on a true story, ‘Denial’ follows the court room drama from a holocaust denier, David Irving (Timothy Spall), as he battles Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) in the quest for truth as to whether the holocaust did in fact occur. While ‘Denial’ works well in its methodical approach to basing an argument on facts not feelings, it ultimately suffers from being too long and stumbling in its final act. The court drama actually feels like it would have worked better as one continuous stretch of film but instead its peppered with interesting, yet pace destroying, scenes that suck any sort of tension from the court room before it.
For the first hour or so though, ‘Denial’ is superb. The hot-headed expressive Deborah and the cool, methodical arrogance of David contrast well and make a fascinating watch as they both prepare their cases but its such a pity that they weren’t given the freedom to actually debate – which is what half the film was actually about. It’s unfortunate then, that when the court case actually rolls round and the meat of the film is explored, the pacing and plot suffer from being overlong and lacking that killer punch with drawn out scenes lacking the emotional edge they were so obviously going for.
There’s a confrontation early in the film that drives the entire court case, its teased that the two leads will come to blows but whilst I understand why they didn’t, I still found it a little disappointing that they didn’t explore this avenue outside the court-room. Perhaps as an argument brewing in a restaurant or a chance encounter in the streets, something to keep that tension going between the intense court scenes would have worked better than the long stares we get that ultimately don’t build to anything.
That’s not to say Denial is a bad film, quite the opposite. Its a good film with some frustrating fundamental flaws. This doesn’t take away from the acting though. It brilliantly captivates and the entire cast do a great job in portraying their characters which keeps it moving at a relatively consistent pace. There’s a lot to like here and Rachel’s expressive performance is especially powerful in the scenes where they view parts of Auschwitz. As a court room drama, it’s easily one of the best I’ve ever seen and with such a sensitive subject matter, its very easy to dislike David Irving; he revels in it with his smug demeanour as he shrugs off the hard hitting questions.
What I really liked though is how ‘Denial’ tells a great life lesson. That being how to use evidence and use cool rationale rather than your heart to construct a compelling argument and this, for me, was the most important point I took from this film. I applaud the film makers for this smart touch that might not be initially clear on the surface but I like to think its deliberately intended to help people formulate arguments in a more constructive way through life.
So while ‘Denial’ isn’t perfect and it’s final act suffers with strange scene choices and a overlong run time, it’s still a good film that deserves a watch. It’s certainly one of the best court room dramas I’ve seen and the acting is fantastic throughout. Ultimately though, ‘Denial’ could so easily could have been great if it hadn’t slipped up on the meat of the film – the court drama itself.
Verdict - 7/10