‘Denial’ Struggles to Prove Itself

‘Denial’ Struggles to Prove Itself

Deborah Lipstadt accepts a national American Jewish Committee award in May.
Deborah Lipstadt accepts a national American Jewish Committee award in May.

The early reviews are mixed for “Denial,” the movie about Deborah Lipstadt’s defense of a libel lawsuit brought against her in England by British Holocaust denier David Irving.

The film, starring Rachel Weisz as the Emory professor and Young Israel of Toco Hills member, had its world premiere Sunday night, Sept. 11, in a prime slot at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“It’s a curiously awkward and slipshod movie that winds up being about nothing so much as the perverse, confounding eccentricities of the British legal system,” Variety senior film critic Owen Gleiberman writes.

He finds “Denial” lacking compared with stellar courtroom dramas such as “12 Angry Men,” “Anatomy of a Murder” and “The Verdict.” He criticizes David Hare’s script, based on Lipstadt’s book about the libel case, “My Day in Court,” for failing to explore why the British legal team chose not to put Lipstadt or any Holocaust survivors on the stand or why it selected a particular strategy to prove the Holocaust happened and thus win the case.

He has nothing nice to say about director Mick Jackson or any of the actors, including Oscar winner Weisz, and he expresses frustration at the film’s failure to highlight “how a historical lie tries to become truth.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Deborah Young, however, says the film “makes few missteps.” She praises Hare’s script as “carefully balanced” and Jackson’s directing for its serious approach leavened by English wit.

While Gleiberman thinks Weisz’s performance feels like an acting exercise, Young writes that her “arresting, combative Lipstadt, a shining woman warrior, is a role she will be remembered for. … She is a rousing, articulate heroine channeling her passion and energy into a concrete cause.”

Both reviewers hint at Weisz’s Queens accent being on the edge of overdone.

The Wrap’s Steve Pond takes a middle ground, offering a generally positive review but without the breathless excitement Young expresses.

Jackson’s directorial restraint and dignity drain some of the energy from the drama, Pond says, and “the beats are sometimes too predictable.” He has little to say about Weisz’s performance except that she’s “excitable.”

“The film is talky and well-mannered, which are not usually the highest of compliments,” he writes. “But it works.”

“Denial” opens in New York and Los Angeles on Sept. 30 and arrives in Atlanta at the Regal Tara Cinemas 4 on Oct. 7.

Young Israel is holding a special screening at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at the Tara theater, 2345 Cheshire Bridge Road, to be followed by a question-and-answer session with Lipstadt, then a dessert reception at the synagogue just up LaVista Road.

Tickets for the screening are $25 for Young Israel members and $36 for others and must be bought through the shul. Call 404-315-1417, or visit https://www.yith.org/event/exclusive-yith-screening-of-denial.html.

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