TIFF 2016 Review: Denial
Watching a film as transparently Oscar-hungry as Denial can feel like watching a group of studios and executives going down a checklist of content and talent that will maximize their potential for gold statues. Throw some prestigious Academy Award winners and nominees together, pick a subject with enough importance, pick a competent enough director and screenwriter, and voila: you have yourself a film (read: marketing campaign) worthy of pushing on to Academy voters.
It’s all here in Denial, which sleepwalks through its fact-based tale of historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) facing off against David Irving (Timothy Spall), another historian who argued that the Holocaust never happened. Lipstadt specialized in going after Holocaust deniers, and after insulting Irving in one of her books over his beliefs he files a libel suit against her in the UK. The purpose of the suit is clear: it gives Irving an opportunity to debate the Holocaust in a court of law, and a victory for him would mean making it acceptable to question the validity of one of mankind’s greatest tragedies. Feeling like a settlement would be the equivalent of admitting defeat, Lipstadt decides to hire two attorneys (Andrew Scott and Tom Wilkinson) to take Irving on.
It’s hard to generate an ounce of interest in Denial given its offensively inoffensive nature, as it shuffles through scenes that might as well have a “For your consideration” banner hanging in the background of each one. Mick Jackson’s direction gives off the impression that the only thing he did on set was show up. The screenplay by David Hare, who already has experience trying to mine gold from the Holocaust with his script for The Reader, is about as functional as a grade-schooler. Rachel Weisz does a Queens accent, which will give her enough to talk about when doing interviews in the months after the film’s release. Timothy Spall tries his best to do something with his underwritten role as the antagonist, but all he can do is bluster and snarl loud enough to keep viewers from falling asleep. There’s no effort to try and make a film here, only an attempt to get some invitations to red carpets.
But who knows, maybe audiences will see right through Denial’s intentions and give it the banishing it deserves, where it will sit in a figurative dumpster pile next to all the other shameless trophy grabs from this century. It’s a colossal waste of time, but it’s a chance to get a glimpse straight into the heart of the banality of prestige.