Movie Review: “A Man Called Ove” gives cranky Swedes a good name



If the sad Swedish comedy “A Man Called Ove” accomplishes nothing else, at least it’s taught us the Swedish word for “idiot.”


The title character, a walking/grumping antidote to the world’s stereotype of happy, friendly Swedes, uses it for pretty much everyone in this sentimental stroll down memory lane.

The lady who lets her dog pee on his mailbox? “Dumbon!”

The new Swedish-Persian neighbors who are inept at everything from backing up a car towing a trailer to simple home maintenance?


Volvo drivers (He’s a Saab man, since birth)? “Idiotens.”

Audi drivers? “Four zeroes on the grill, another behind the wheel!”

We meet Ove (Rolf Lassgard) as he’s doing “his rounds” — walking around his subdivision, hassling rule breakers, leaving testy notes.

He’s a martinet, a “nit picky” prickly sort, even at his job with the railroad, which he loses to “the whiteshirts” (executives) after 43 years. He’s 59.

Ove considers his options and chooses that Swedish favorite, the Scandinavian paradise’s dirty little secret — suicide. And with each failed attempt, he flashes back to his traumatic childhood — losing his mother young, his dad tragically.

And then there was his late wife, Sonja.

“Before and after Sonja, there was nothing,” he says. And other flashbacks show us why. She brought him out of his shell, raised his horizons, made him feel loved.

Now, drowning in the bile of a world he cannot re-shape no matter how many rules he enforces, he doesn’t want to go on. Visiting the grave of Sonja (a radiant Ida Engvoll), he can only complain to her headstone.

“This must be the first time you ever had to wait for me.”

But these new folks next door cannot function, it seems, without him. He orders the husband out of their car when he can’t properly park it.


ove2Ove fixes things and barks and shouts at the Persian wife (Bahar Pars), even as she’s making peace offerings. But the pregnant mother of two Parveneh is a tough broad in her own right. She might be the one person who can break his Strindbergian melancholy.

“Fate is the sum total of our stupidity.”

“A Man Called Ove,” in Swedish with English subtitles, can be quietly hilarious — Ove’s insistence on whistling through his various suicide attempts, his insistence on returning the rope that snaps when he tries to hang himself. His insult to the clerk he gives him lip over that return.


It’s also overlong and sentimental. But it’s a vivid, warm and amusing portrait of a real man, someone whose life began in darkness, experienced the light of a great love and has collapsed into a pit of self-pity.

Bitter? Yes, Ove is. But the movie reminds us, the bitter have their reasons.



MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images, and language

Cast:Rolf Lassgård  Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll

Credits:Written and directed by Hannes Holm, based on a novel by Fredrick Backman. . A Music Box release.

Running time: 1:52

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Movie Preview: “Rogue One” looks like a much tougher “Star Wars” remake/mashup/facsimile

Diversity is once again front and center in the next “Star Wars” movie. But judging from the second trailer, “Rogue One” boasts a better cast, some genuine moments of pathos and sacrifice, and director Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”) seems to have a better mashup/”Star Wars Greatest Hits” script than “The Force Awakens.”

Forest and Felicity and Mads and Donnie Yen and Diego Luna and Ben Mendelsohn as the heavy? Jimmy Smits? You have my attention.

I have to say, just based on this, that maybe this is the co-existing history that’s worth pursuing in Disney’s multi-verse take on the George Lucas franchise.

“Rogue One” opens Dec. 16.

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Movie Review: Schrader’s “Dog Eat Dog” is a real mutt


Why is it that every movie Paul Schrader has ever made plays like an invitation to put him on the couch?

A screenwriter (“Taxi Driver”) and director (“Light Sleeper”) whose violent, moralistic melodramas play like peep shows of his id,  Schrader makes the sordid underbelly of America his beat. He plunges in unsparingly and invites us to wallow with him,  and when he’s on his game, makes us ponder our complicity in this world of his and our making.

He’s not been on his game, alas, for years. He teamed with Bret Easton Ellis for the unsavory sex games/mind games of “The Canyons,” and seemed genuinely shocked when Lindsay Lohan wasn’t professional enough offscreen or talented enough onscreen to make it work.

Although lustrous, sometimes Oscar-winning titles such as “Affliction” and “Cat People” dot his resume, lately, he’s tied his fate to filmdom’s talented but most reliably “direct-to-video” action star, Nicolas Cage.

“Dog Eat Dog” is their second consecutive collaboration, a disturbing, bloody and off-key thriller with surreal comic undertones.

Based on an Edward Bunker novel, it’s about a “crew,” eccentric, chatty and murderous ex-cons who team up for a series of jobs.

Schrader himself plays “El Greco,” “The Greek,” a racist underworld figure who sets up the various assignments.

Cage is Troy, a Bogart-fixated narrator who owes the aptly-named Mad Dog (Willem Dafoe) his life. Otherwise, who’d go into business with this psycho? We meet Mad Dog as he’s stuffing his nose with coke, hyped up on a gun-nut TV show, sweet-talking a portly lady friend and killing her and her daughter when she tires of his drug/porn/gun and violence addiction.

Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook of “The Walking Dead”) is their muscle, a supposedly smart guy who keeps getting caught doing stupid things.

Troy is meant to be the sane and stable one, whose job is “to take care of the crew.” But he’s capable of pitiless violence, too.

“I’m gonna blow your backbone out of your belly!

dog2A series of bar scenes establish each and every one of these guys as a talker, a delusional dreamer and a user of women. Diesel works too hard to pick up a barfly (Louisa Krause of “Martha Marcy Mae Marlene”) by extemporizing on casino bartenders and why they won’t serve his whisky “neat.”  Troy tries to talk a hooker into flying with him to Nice after his next score. She’s never heard of Nice and is more interested in her cell phone than any plans this trick she’s literally just met has in mind.

Mad Dog, sick on every level, has his own warped code. And he won’t stand for a “Happy Ending” Asian massage in which the masseuse is also distracted by her smart phone.

They’re dead-enders, and their robberies and kidnappings are one-way trips. “We all have two strikes.” It’s succeed or die.

Schrader stages some wonderfully nervy heists — white deplorables hold a black drug dealer hostage in the middle of a neighborhood where they would stand out, even if they weren’t dressed as cops; a “Raising Arizona” kidnapping that begins with somebody’s head exploding from a shotgun blast, and goes downhill from there.

With touches like the fake cop car these dopes create by using duct tape to mimic striping and to spell out the word “P-o-L-I-c-E,” you understand that Schrader wanted this to be funny.

Troy lectures his mates about getting “Samurai Style” serious.

“Jackie Chan,” Mad Dog hisses with an idiotic grin.

The sight gags more ugly than funny. And the finale and coda drift from cops-as-murderous-as-crooks messaging to Cage hallucinating his best Bogie.

Cage and Dafoe never give less than their best, Cook is not bad, though the women aren’t allowed to make any impression at all, and Schrader’s acting just makes one wish he’d called in a favor and gotten a real actor to be The Greek.

The story may be linear and the film brief. But the movie drags, with a ragged, slapdash and random feel to the scenes and how they’re tied together.

If we’re invited, as always, to put the filmmaker on the couch after this one, I have a killer first question for the patient.

“Did it all make sense in your head? And was it funny?”



MPAA Rating: unrated, with graphic violence, drug abuse, nudity and sexual situations. And profanity.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe,Christopher Matthew CookPaul Schrader, Louisa Krause

Credits:Directed by Paul Schrader, script by Matthew Wilder based on an Edward Bunker novel. An RLJ Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:33

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Movie Review: “Little Sister” is a nun on the run to and from her Goth girl past

A068_C016_1112GFGood scripts don’t over-explain. They leave mysteries for us to speculate about, mull over, mysteries that draw us in.

“Little Sister” is slight, unfussy character study with a hint of such mystery. It’s about a 21 year-old novice nun estranged from her family for three years. Colleen (Addison Timlin)  ran away to join a convent.

Why? We don’t really learn the “big mistake” that hurled her into the arms of religion. But when we meet her family and get a taste of her past, we get hints.

Sister Joan is about to take her vows. She reads to the sick, buys food and feeds the poor and seems to walk the walk and talk the talk. But she still hangs out with people her age, experimental theater types who ridicule the Bush Administration (It’s 2008) on-stage, and offer the nun-to-be “blow” offstage.

And as is often the case in movies about nuns — “The Sound of Music” wasn’t the first — her Mother Superior has her doubts about the girl. Barbara Crampton, flinty but much prettier than the typical movie Mother Superior,  lays down the lay to Colleen/Joan.

“It took God six days to create the universe. You should be able to get your act together in five.”

Go home, see the family you don’t talk to. Take my car.

So Colleen returns to Asheville to deal with her mercurial, medicated mom (Ally Sheedy), her adoring, indulgent dad (“Pieces of April” director and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” writer Peter Hedges), her brother and her past.

That past is first confronted when she returns to the darkly-decorated (black paint, upside down crucifix) bedroom she abandoned for the nunnery. She runs into people who knew her, and then an old friend from “back then” (Molly Plunk). They’re not used to seeing her buried under pancake makeup, her hair dyed some unnatural color.

Back in the day, Colleen was an Asheville Goth.

Evening meals, which she insists on praying over, show how far she’s left all that behind.

But her beloved older brother (Keith Poulson) is a Marine, returned from Iraq burned and scarred for life. He’s crawled into his garage apartment, alone with his thoughts, his old GWAR horror-metal CDs and his drums. He seems lost and doomed, self-aware enough to not wallow in self-pity, not wanting anybody else’s pity either.

Joan will need her inner Colleen to draw Jacob out.

“Sister” has that “film festival movie” tone to it, where nothing much happens — character arcs are limited and narrow — but carefully observed details and personality quirks keep you interested. Almost every character on the screen feels lived in.

sis2Timlin, of “That Awkward Moment” and TV’s “Zero Hour,” has a wounded winsomeness that is quite winning. Poulson registers some emotion underneath his “Deadpool” mask, and Kristin Slaysman makes a lasting impression as the sexy fiance who refuses to abandon Jacob even if that’s what he wants, even if her sexual frustrations are getting the best of her.

Sheedy, decades beyond her “Breakfast Club” heyday, still brings the brittle. Her Joani (A convent clue?) has a fierce and formidable narcissism that cannot understand Colleen’s choice and refuses to accept the uptight religious woman her daughter turned into, something she lashes out about in between medications.

“I will try to correct myself, with the grace of God,” is exactly the sort of reply that will set her off.

The script has the odd zing, even if it never quite dazzles. Writer-director Zach Clark isn’t above going twee and cute — a lip-syncing Goth moment, a high school crush acted-on. And the whole “hope/change” election year setting seems obvious and pointless.

But even without big revelations or surprises, it’s not without its charms. “Little Sister” levitates above the trite and banal, even if it never quite takes flight.


MPAA Rating: unrated, with drug use, adult situations, near nudity

Cast: Addison TimlinAlly Sheedy, Keith Poulson, Peter Hedges, Barbara Crampton, Kristin Slaysman, Molly Plunk

Credits:Written and directed by Zach Clark. A Forager/Wraith release.

Running time: 1:31

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Movie Preview: “Army of One” makes Cage comic, and relevant again?

For reasons I can’t even fathom, I have made it a point to review every Nicolas Cage movie — even the hardest to locate, grade Z junk that nobody gets to. Maybe it has something to do with what he once told me in an interview, that he works “just to settle my mind” and not think about life and life’s problems.

It was sad, but honest. And as long as he stumbles across the occasional “Joe” or “Kick-Ass,” I’m in. I’ve got one to see tomorrow (“Dog Eat Dog”), as a matter of fact.

But there are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments in this trailer to the Larry Charles (“Borat”) film based on the true story of a nut who decided he was the one person (chosen by God) to find Osama bin Laden. “Army of One” takes its title from a past (I think) recruiting campaign by the US Army. I don’t see that “Army of One” has a release date.

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Movie Review: “The Accountant” can’t quite balance his books


Hollywood’s ongoing fascination with Asperger’s and other points on the autism spectrum gets filmdom into trouble with “The Accountant.”

Spinning the outward awkwardness, difficulty connecting on a human level symptoms of the condition to create a bookkeeper with computer-worthy numbers skills and utterly amoral about whose books he keeps, and how many people he kills, seems to invite protest.

Make your own joke about Ben Affleck being perfectly cast as an impassive, unemotional and somewhat stiff bookkeeper/killer, because I like the guy and have no problem with Warner Brothers grooming him as their replacement for star actor/star director Clint Eastwood. He’s not bad in the part, but the whole “avoiding eye contact” thing comes and goes, as you can see in the photo above.

Affleck plays a man who turns up in one photo after another of famous mobsters and international money launderers. He uses aliases, all of them stolen from famous dead mathematicians.

But an outgoing Treasury Dept. investigator (J.K. Simmons) wants to find this guy, figure out how he connects to all these underworld figures. He wants his quarry so badly he’s willing to blackmail a junior agent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into taking up the pursuit.

And a now-motivated Agent Medina starts putting together the pieces.

As Christian Wolff (German philosopher/mathematician, 1679-1754), “The Accountant” has a legitimate suburban Chicago business. He does people’s taxes, people he is utterly incapable of responding to with any warmth. His every tactless attempt at levity has to be explained.

“I’m joking,” he deadpans.

He also takes seemingly legitimate “impossible” jobs, tidying up the books of a computerized prosthetics pioneer (John Lithgow), for instance. That’s where he meets the perky/friendly in-house accountant, Dana (Anna Kendrick). She makes him forget (sometimes) that he can’t make eye contact.

But she’s the one who found money problems at the company, problems that some folks don’t want revealed. That puts her and her new accountant buddy in jeopardy. And that’s where the guy’s fondness for guns and ruthless willingness to use them enters into the picture.


He whispers nursery rhymes to calm himself and focus as he’s gunning down legions of bad guys who “violate his code.” He’s easily distracted, so he lives an aesthetic life, “training” away his symptoms by exercising, working and sleeping with deafening heavy metal playing on his stereo.

Affleck and the script do their best to play his illness down the middle, but as flashbacks show his father’s “tough love” approach to autism, and the film makes the case that this works, after a fashion, everybody involved starts treading on thin ice.

In any event, Wolff is an impossible character to warm up to, at least as played here.

Affleck’s need to be icy should have opened the door for the warm and witty Kendrick to steal the picture. No. Jeffrey Tambor has only a couple of scenes as our “Dark Money” accountant’s underworld mentor. Even the abrasive and biting Simmons is relegated to the background for most of the story, and Addai-Robinson is never more than a pretty plot device.


It’s Jon Bernthal who walks away with “The Accountant,” vivid, ruthless and yet somehow “reasonable” as a mercenary hit-man brought in to clean up personnel issues at places where the books are filled with “Dark Money.”

He cannot clean up this misshapen script, though, with its need to over-explain Wolff’s demeanor, motivate every illogical plot twist and create a finale that’s more irritating than satisfying. Director Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”) is at a loss in trying to shape this into a lean, chilly action picture. The fights and shootouts work, some of the accounting stuff is funny, but the rest is a muddle.

Their template should have been “The Transporter”  — action, minimal motivation, odd glimpses of the illness and limit the back story. The screenwriter wrote himself into a trap, and spends way too much screen time trying to medically/psychologically justify his “hero.” Less of all that exposition might have made “The Accountant” add up to more than this mess.


MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout

Cast:Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons,

Credits:Directed by Gavin O’Conner, script by Bill Dubuque. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 2:08

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Movie Review — “Kevin Hart: What Now?”


Kevin Hart can sell-out football stadiums, at least in his home town of Philadelphia.

He can wear huge diamond-encrusted gold chains, a gold watch and bracelet, gold-topped sneakers, golden-zippered leather jacket and wield a gold-colored microphone when he does his stand-up.

He can cast himself as a short, comically inept James Bond in a 20 minute pre-concert gambling-and-action film co-starring Halle Berry and Don Cheadle.

And he can insult them, and take their threats and insults as he does.

kevin2He lives in a suburban mansion, and his problems include how private school is ruining his kids.

But even as Hart grows richer, more remote and seemingly less relate-able, there’s still manic hilarity in the little man. He’s still fearlessly fearful, defiantly shallow and amusingly self-effacing on stage.

“Kevin Hart: Now What?” is a self-satisfied, over-the-top concert film that finds the funny in “affluence,” embraces the narcissism of its star and the heartlessness in Hart.

He’s about to remarry, but only if “my lady,” who is trapped in a mental world ofo, isn’t attacked by a bobcat on their suburban property, or mangled by a shark after falling off the boat.

“She didn’t come like that. I’m not taking her home like that.”

Yeah, if she loses an arm and a leg to a shark, there’s no point in crawling back on the boat. He’s throwing her back in.

“Clean that plate, Mr. Shark!”

She’d better not have her shoulder bitten off.

“You can kiss halter-tops good-bye!”

Sexist and shallow and mercenary, sure. And thankfully, improbable.  Most improbable of all, he hunts for laughs in a 36 year-old man’s first trip to Starbucks, ridiculing  “the test” that placing an order in the well-established, jargon-filled franchise entails.

Hart plays “don’t go there” with his audience, which must have experienced this video-assisted “intimate” stadium show mostly through video screens.

Lies meant to cool the tempers of “Suspicious-minded women” and a seven year-old son fond of flip flops and gestures he’s learned from the long-haired white kids who are his school peers allow Hart to show off his acting chops.

He mugs, he does the rich white kids’ hair-toss that his son emulates, he does voices.

Hart doesn’t break new ground with any of this, but his antic energy and the polish of these routines (he works with two old-friends to write them) make him a formidable stand-up, one whose career could take on a Seinfeld arc — still hungry, still loving the work, still delivering — after he’s peaked, gotten rich and scared off another wife.


MPAA Rating: R for some sexual material, and language throughout |

Cast: Kevin Hart, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle

Credits:Directed by Leslie Small, Tim Story, script by Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:36

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Movie Review –“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”


Well, thank heavens for Rob Riggle.

The least funny of the rotating crew of Col. Sanders in those TV commercials turns out to be the one comic saving grace of “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.” One of TV and the cinema’s typecast jerks makes a laugh-out-loud “Mom’s hateful new boyfriend” in this colorless kids’ comedy with an anarchic edge, a film with neither the performers nor the wit to cut through the cliches.

Griffin Gluck is the blandly cute leading man, improbably named “Rafe” by his sous chef mom (Lauren Graham). He’s a mopey lad who loses himself in his fantastical comic book drawings, so much so that he’s been kicked out of several schools when we meet him.


His latest middle school, Hills Valley, is a comically draconian institution with a lengthy list of rules nobody is allowed to break. Don’t touch the trophy case, “No crazy hair colors” and “always do what the principal (Andrew Daly) says.

Rafe gets bullied, moons over the cute girl (Isabelle Moner) and when his notebook of drawings is confiscated and destroyed in a bucket of acid by Principal Dwight, decides to rebel. He and pal Leo (Thomas Barbusca) will go through the Code of Conduct, and break every single rule in school.

There are pranks involving paint in the principals’ hat, fart-noises on the PA system, balls in the teacher’s lounge and post-it notes.


All of it financed (stolen credit card numbers) by the jerk (Riggle) that Mom is dating and planning to marry, a BMW-driving loser who has a different track suit for every occasion. Hapless “Bear,” as Rafe and mouthy sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson) call the prospective dad-to-be, is their one worthy foil, the kind of guy who will try to turn around your “butt-wipe” insult into a compliment.

Aside from Riggle, there isn’t a laugh in this. Adam Pally makes a pleasantly amusing version of the “hip” teacher — using music mixtapes to illustrate international trade. Efren Ramirez, “Pedro” of “Napoleon Dynamite,” is stereotypically cast as the janitor, the tween girls dress like Kardashians and the boys obsess on mastering one aspect of anatomy, marveling at Rafe’s “Expertly drawn boobs.”

“Hey, those were ACCURATE! I think.”

You can appreciate the effort to be edgy that this film, based on James Patterson/Will Tebbetts novel.

But the wimpy kid here isn’t interesting, the “worst years” a dull exaggeration and the movie not worth the 92 minutes it takes to sit through.



MPAA Rating:PG for rude humor throughout, language and thematic elements

Cast: Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham, Andrew Daly, Retta, Rob Riggle, Isabelle Moner

Credits:Directed by Steve Carr, script by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Kara Holden, based on the book by James Patterson and Will Tebbetts. A Lionsgate/CBS Films release.

Running time: 1:32

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Movie Review: A parent relives his punk past in”Ordinary World”


In “Ordinary World,” Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong plays an aging punk —  husband and dad years past his punk-rock peak — who decides the most punk thing he can still manage is to blow a wad of his hardware store-job cash on a party for himself in a high-end New York hotel room.

The movie reminds you of a perhaps unfair knock at those “American Idiots,” Green Day. It strains at cuteness.

Twenty years before, Perry pounded through sets at assorted punk-friendly clubs in greater New York. Now, the only music he makes is to mock-explain the expletives he and mom (Selma Blair) still let fly in front of their tweenage daughter and toddler.

He’s still got the wild mop of dyed hair. But now Perry’s the guy who yells, “How many times I gotta tell you, USE an ashtray?” when friends come over.

The other dads at school want him in their “Dad’s Group.” His brother (Chris Messina) is angling to buy his perpetually tardy butt out of the family hardware store.

And the wife has forgotten his birthday, a big one — his 40th.

Perry needs a break from “Dad mode.” He needs to remember “the old days.” He’d love to “get the band back together.”

So he takes his settlement cash from the store, marches over to The Drake Hotel and gets the biggest suite in the joint. He calls his drummer (Fred Armisen of “Saturday Night Live” and “Portlandia”) and announces a party.

No, they don’t allow them in the suites at the Drake. No, there’s to be no punk music on that floor, even if that means his pals complain “You’re just no fun any more.”

And yes, that’s his old punk flame, now Joan Jett’s manager (Judy Greer) he runs into in the lobby.

“It’s AWESOME that you still say ‘Awesome!'”

Writer-director Lee Kirk’s script manages a few laugh-out-loud lines and moments, and Armstrong has an offhanded charm that plays well in a role tailor-made for him.

But “Ordinary World” is a little too enamored of the phrase “Truth in advertising.” It’s run of the mill, humdrum, “ordinary” in its set up, the “ticking clock” (Can Perry polish off the party in time to get her new guitar to his daughter before the big elementary school talent show?), and temptations (pricey booze, punking out, Judy Greer).

It plays like a reality TV pilot that’s a little too real (boring) for its own good.


MPAA Rating: unrated, with alcohol abuse, smoking, adult situations

Cast: Billie Joe Armstrong, Selma Blair, Fred Armisen, Judy Greer, Dallas Roberts

Credits: Written and directed by Lee Kirk. A Universal release.

Running time:

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Movie: “Denial” reminds us that America isn’t the only place loaded with “deplorables”



Fateful timing brings the Holocaust drama “Denial” into American theaters in the stretch run of the strangest presidential election in modern American history.

Here’s a British film about a British lawsuit in which an unconscionable liar sued a widely-celebrated American Holocaust researcher in which the judge has to wonder if the liar is indeed a liar if he believes the nonsense, deliberate distortions and bigoted remarks that come out of his mouth and onto the page.

“Deplorable?” That’s exactly how many Brits might describe David Irving, a self-taught historian and Hitler apologist, a “Holocaust denier,” as Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) describes him.

And that inflammatory phrase is why Irving (veteran character actor Timothy Spall, Churchill in “The King’s Speech,” “Wormtail” in the “Harry Potter” movies) and some supporters ambushed Lipstadt at an Atlanta speaking engagement, where her refusal to debate such people was put to the test.

Irving sued Lipstadt and her publisher, and Penguin threw together a dream team, partly paid for by famous Jews from both sides of the Atlantic (Steven Spielberg’s name came up) for what promised to be a sensation — “The Holocaust put on trial.”

But it’s a fair knock on “Denial” that “sensation” never comes into it. The British courts put the burden of proof in such cases on the person being sued. With one lawyer preparing the case and another arguing it, with outbursts in court unheard of and her attorneys refusal to allow her, or Holocaust survivors, to testify, the trial devolves into a generally dry game of cat and mouse between the smooth and polished Irving and Lipstadt’s advocate, played with cunning and warmth by the great Tom Wilkinson.

Screenwriter David Hare (“The Reader,” “The Hours”) and under-employed British director Mick Jackson (“L.A. Story”) make the film’s title into a pun. Irving denies the Holocaust, the systemic round-up, enslavement and slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other “undesirables” during World War II, ever happened. Lipstadt, given an outspoken Queens-raised turn by Weisz, must keep her mouth shut, practice “self-denial” and trust her attorneys, led by the canny legal mind, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) who won Princess Diana’s divorce.

The mouthy Lipstadt is stunned by the request to keep her silence, furious at the PR war she sees being lost from the start. British jurisprudence can be a jolting experience to those used to America’s adversarial but seemingly fairer “innocent until proven guilty” system.

“I don’t mind Dickensian,” she cracks. It’s ‘Kafka-esque’ that scares me.”

History buffs will delight in her insults to the condescending Brits. She, and they, know what “appeasement” means and what she’s saying when she accuses them of it. Sure, the British screenwriter and British Oscar winner playing Lipstadt flirt with making Lipstadt a stereotype, an argumentative self-described “defender of my people” among the “Chosen People.” But Weisz gives her brass and allows her moments of amusement amid her outrage.


Spall is magnificent playing a self-polished spokesman for skinheads and Britain’s anti-Semites. But Wilkinson, despite being loaded down cliches meant to make Lipstadt, and us, underestimate him — he drinks and drinks and smokes and smokes and eats blood putdding — still manages to embody the heart of the movie — a voice of reason, logic and memory.

No, Richard Rampton won’t let Lipstadt onto the stand. No, he won’t call the pleading and shrinking crowds of Holocaust survivors who have made it their life’s mission to bear witness. He’s brusque as he stalks through a moving wintry Auschwitz visit, rude even.

It is “proof” his character is after, and he and the movie suggest it’s high time that forensic science and simple, hard evidence be brought to bear on this most emotional subject, the world’s most heinous crime and one of the great human-made tragedies ever. Evidence that will put shut deniers up for good.

The film’s courtroom concentration — the suit, prep and trial took years — makes it one of the driest treatments of The Holocaust ever. But Weisz and Wilkinson find emotions around the edges of all that be-wigged legal wrangling.

Jackson and Hare make this something of a celebration of “The British Way,” an attempt to remove justice from the court of public opinion.

But watch “Denial” hot on the heels of Netflix’s “Amanda Knox,” about an American trapped by the arcane backwardness of Italy’s courts, and it’s enough to make you want to turn in your passport.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and brief strong language

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott

Credits:Directed by Mick Jackson, script by David Hare, based on the Deborah Lipstadt book. A Bleecker Street release.

Running time: 1:50

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