DE­NIAL, drama, rated PG-13, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

How do you prove guilt in a his­tor­i­cal who­dunit when the en­tire world knows ex­actly who done it? That is the cen­tral ques­tion of this court­room drama based on Deb­o­rah E. Lip­stadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holo­caust De­nier (Ecco, 2005), which de­scribes the real-life le­gal bat­tle that oc­curred in the late 1990s when in­fa­mous Holo­caust de­nier David Irv­ing sued Lip­stadt for li­bel — a re­sult of her ac­tu­ally call­ing him a Holo­caust de­nier.

Irv­ing (played here with weaselly charisma by Ti­mothy Spall) felt his rep­u­ta­tion as a thinker and his­to­rian was slan­dered, and so he sued Lip­stadt and Pen­guin Books in the UK, where the bur­den of proof is on the ac­cused. Lip­stadt (Rachel Weisz) and her lawyers found them­selves with the pe­cu­liar task of prov­ing that the Holo­caust ac­tu­ally hap­pened, and that Irv­ing in­ten­tion­ally fal­si­fied his his­tor­i­cal writ­ing to ar­gue oth­er­wise.

Screen­writer David Hare and di­rec­tor Mick Jack­son keep the film fo­cused on the case it­self. This is a no-frills, no-fat film, and those look­ing for mod­ern par­al­lels to fact-fudg­ing de­niers of cli­mate change or the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks will have to squint fairly hard to find con­nec­tions — al­though the film is par­tic­u­larly pointed in our cur­rent “we’ve got to hear both sides” era, where even the most ab­surd and of­fen­sive viewpoint is treated with merit. Even char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment gets short shrift; the film’s re­la­tion­ships, which pri­mar­ily in­volve Lip­stadt and her lawyers, don’t blos­som from the page so much as the per­for­mances.

For­tu­nately, the ac­tors are up to the task. Weisz is sharply de­ter­mined, com­pul­sive, and driven by ob­vi­ous emo­tion, mak­ing her a nice counterweight for her coolly rea­son­able Bri­tish team of lawyers, in par­tic­u­lar the in­tel­li­gent and off-putting An­thony Julius (An­drew Scott, who is most fa­mous for play­ing the smugly smart Mo­ri­arty on the BBC’s Sher­lock) and the warm Richard Ramp­ton (Tom Wilkin­son). It’s the friend­ship be­tween Lip­stadt and Ramp­ton that bub­bles to the fore and be­comes the film’s heart. Wilkin­son, as usual, ex­udes enough charm to en­velop the whole screen; Ramp­ton ar­gues in court with the skill of an ob­jec­tive tac­ti­cian, but in pri­vate be­trays his pas­sion for pub­licly sham­ing Irv­ing as a fool and a bigot.

The court­room scenes, which make up a bulk of the film’s sec­ond half, show­case a cat-and-mouse game in­volv­ing jour­nals, his­tor­i­cal facts, texts, and egos, with Ramp­ton spar­ring clev­erly against Irv­ing (act­ing as his own lawyer). The au­di­ence, mean­while, wit­nesses the bat­tle from our proxy in Lip­stadt, who craves jus­tice, des­per­ately wants the voice of the Jewish peo­ple to be heard — and who likely wants to stran­gle Irv­ing. It’s not a ter­ri­bly stylish movie, but it is crisply edited and highly com­pelling, es­pe­cially as you know who did it in the end. — Robert Ker

Hav­ing her say: Rachel Weisz

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