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“Denial” (Image via Wikipedia)

Denial is a courtroom drama about the libel lawsuit filed by author David Irving (portayed by Timothy Spall) against Prof. Deborah Lipstadt (portrayed by Rachel Weisz). Irving sued Lipstadt for calling him a “Holocaust denier” in one of her books. Because Irving brought the case in England, the burden of proof is on the accused, and so Lipstadt and her legal team are required to prove Irving knowingly lied in denying the Holocaust.

As part of the research for the trial, Lipstadt and her lawyers go to Auschwitz, where her barrister, Richard Rampton, asks a series of matter-of-fact questions about the camp and the methods of killing. This makes Lipstadt very uncomfortable, but Rampton argues it is necessary to build their case.

As the trial begins, it is clear that Irving is a master of public relations.  He acts as his own lawyer, against Lipstadt’s well-financed legal team, to cast himself as an underdog and create a “David vs. Goliath” image.

As part of their strategy, Lipstadt’s lawyers don’t allow her to speak at the trial, or to the press.  They also refuse to allow Holocaust survivors to speak, even after Lipstadt is approached by one, pleading with her to allow their voices to be heard.

Lipstadt is greatly distressed by this. But as Rampton explains, these are the sacrifices they must make. “It’s the price you pay for winning,” he tells Lipstadt. The goal is to make the trial not about the Holocaust, but about Irving himself.

The strategy works well, and gradually they begin to expose Irving as an anti-Semite, and his “historical errors” as deliberately calculated to paint Hitler in the best possible light.  Ultimately, their strategy succeeds, and Irving is ruled to have knowingly lied to deny the Holocaust.

The victory is satisfying, but Irving remains a genius at the dark art of “spin”–after the verdict is announced Lipstadt watches as Irving is interview on television saying that he obviously beat Lipstadt’s legal team, but was just not forceful enough to convince the Judge.

Although the ending of the film is as upbeat as one could expect, given the subject matter, there is a certain subtext that suggests Irving may have lost in court, but will use his skills as a showman to win with the press.  I’m not even sure if the filmmakers intended this, but Irving is portrayed as a shrewd and manipulative man, and the implication seems to be that he–and others like him–could continue to trick uninformed people.

The acting is terrific throughout. Rachel Weisz is brilliant as Lipstadt, right down to her Queens accent. Timothy Spall plays Irving as a man of intelligence and a veneer of “old English gentleman” charm masking a core of hatred. Every performance is excellent.

The script is not bad, but at times tries too hard to be clever and snappy (a common flaw in dramas nowadays), and too often has characters blatantly stating exposition or background information for the benefit of the audience.

The annoying wordiness of the script is compounded by the fact that some of the film’s most powerful scenes are the ones where the characters don’t speak. The scenes at Auschwitz are every bit as powerfully haunting as they should be, without any words being necessary.

Of course, a courtroom drama is bound to have some talking, and the script is certainly good enough when it needs to be. The trial scenes are riveting, even knowing the outcome.

It’s a dark film, and not only because of the Holocaust subject matter, but also because of its depiction of how the bigot Irving advances his agenda with lies and clever manipulation of the press and public alike.  The concept of truth itself comes under attack from Irving, and Lipstadt is forced to confront the possibility that to even respond would be to lend him legitimacy.

Overall, a very good and interesting film. I recommend it. It prompted me to do more research regarding Irving, the lawsuit, and the subject of Holocaust denial generally.  I have a lot more to write on those topics, but that will be a separate post.

As I mentioned recently, I’m suffering from Star Wars fatigue.  But I have to admit, having seen Star Wars VIII director and writer Rian Johnson’s film The Brothers Bloom, I’m curious to see what he’ll do with the space saga.

The Brothers Bloom (Image via Wikipedia, used under Fair Use)

Brothers Bloom is a weird movie.  It’s probably the second-weirdest movie I’ve seen–only The Ruling Class, starring Peter O’Toole, was weirder.  And it’s very close. Oddly, both of them are about an eccentric rich person and their bizarre exploits. The movies are otherwise fairly different, but I thought it was a curious similarity.

The eponymous brothers are con men from birth.  But the younger brother, played by Adrien Brody (the character’s name seemingly is “Bloom Bloom”, since everyone, including his brother Stephen, always refers to him as “Bloom”) wants out of the con business.  Naturally, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) convinces him to do one last con–they will pose as antique smugglers to swindle the eccentric, reclusive heiress, Penelope Stamp. (Rachel Weisz).

Bloom of course quickly falls in love with Penelope, and begins to feel increasingly guilty about the scheme.  Penelope, meanwhile, loves the concept of being a smuggler that the brothers have fed her.  She pursues it with greater enthusiasm than the brothers themselves.

The plot is winding and complicated; and there’s no way I could do it justice here.  It provides all the twists and turns one would want in a con man movie.  There are numerous funny scenes and comical misadventures–probably the highlight being a mistake made by Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi)–the Brothers’ silent Japanese collaborator and explosives expert.  But it might be the scene where Penelope tries to evade Czech soldiers by sneaking through a ventilation duct, and for once, the ventilation ducts are not the infallible escape route that movies usually make them out to be.

Despite the enjoyable, humorous tone of the film, the story takes some very dark turns towards the end, and the finale is extremely bittersweet.  I won’t spoil it here–it’s the kind of movie where part of the fun is trying to guess what will happen.

One interesting thing about the film is that it never seems clear in what time period it is set.  The fashions seems to be 1920s or ’60s, but the cars look modern or 1980s.  People travel by steam boat or train, but there are also references to cell phones and anime. I think it must have been deliberate, and it creates a very weird effect–almost like this is some alternate retro-reality. Like a steampunk world, only cooler.

The last thing I want to note is a comment on the rating system.  I watched this movie shortly after watching the superhero film Thor. Both movies are PG-13.  This strikes me as hilarious.  Thor has cartoonish violence (mainly against monsters, as well as a few “henchman” type characters.) and I think a couple people might say “what the hell”. That’s it on the objectionable content.

Brothers Bloom has tons of swearing–up to and including the big “F”.  It has violence–the brothers routinely fake being shot to death as part of their cons, and sometimes things aren’t always so fake.  It has several sex scenes, plus some brief nudity.

I don’t object to any of the stuff in Brothers Bloom, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a prude, and all of it makes sense in the movie.  I’m not even saying it should have gotten an “R”. I’m just saying that any movie rating system that gives the same rating to Thor and Brothers Bloom has something seriously wrong with it.