If the U.S. presidential election and the “Brexit” decision have not made it abundantly clear, our time is teetering on the brink of becoming a “post-truth” era. Using any variety of rhetorical techniques, charlatans can play fast and loose with the facts to push an agenda based on blatant falsehoods or distortions of reality. Mick Jackson’s “Denial” plays like a kind of incidental prologue to our present dilemma, and perhaps this recent history is one we ought to have lent more credence as it played out.
Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) falls under attack from Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall), who baits her into making disparaging comments on video so that he can sue for defamation. Using a sneaky legal maneuver, he files suit in the United Kingdom where the burden of proof falls on the accuser. Thus, Lipstadt and her legal team must make the case that the Holocaust did happen, and Irving deliberately twisted the truth.
David Hare’s script hardly ranks among the most compelling courtroom dramas – a bit of fat could definitely be eliminated to make the film tauter – yet “Denial” still provides plenty of fodder for the mind. Some of the most provocative action in the film takes place in plotting the logistics of the case. Is the best strategy to go after the message or the messenger? It might be easier to take down Irving based on his character, but does that show adequate respect for the suffering of those whose history he tries to erase? Should Lipstadt take the stand? What about Holocaust survivors?
Ultimately, “Denial” asks us to consider who gets to make the case for history – and what place those who lived through those events have in shaping it. The road to the conclusion can be an uncomfortable sit; however, the film’s passionate case for freedom of truthful speech and the primacy of logic are quite moving. And given the current climate, we could all use a little confidence booster that reason will eventually triumph over the misguide notion that it’s respectable to have two points of view regarding incontrovertible evidence. B+ /