Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney,
Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven
by: Alan Parker
Written by: Charles Randolph
Produced by: Alan Parker, Nicolas Cage
Distributor: Universal Pictures
21/02/03 UK: 14/03/03
Gale is a devoted father, popular professor and respected
death penalty opponent who finds himself on Death Row
for the rape and murder of fellow activist Constance
Harraway. With only three days before his scheduled
execution, Gale agrees to give Pulitzer-hungry reporter
Bitsey Bloom the exclusive interview she's been chasing.
But Bitsey soon realizes that this assignment is more
than she bargained for, and that a man's life is in
her hands. Putting her own safety in jeopardy, she frantically
races to piece together the shocking events surrounding
Constance's death before it's too late.
Kev, don't you think I should get a higher billing
than Winslet. She's only a Brit for God's sake!"
There's an extremely intriguing premise behind this film that makes it
fascinating to watch, but only because of the thoughts it provokes.
Alas, the film itself never rises above a mediocre and rather
predictable drama. Top news-magazine journalist Bitsey (Winslet) is
given the chance of a lifetime: To interview a man on death row over the
last three days of his life. So off she goes to Texas, accompanied by a
keen intern (Mann), to meet philosophy professor David Gale (Spacey),
due to be executed for the brutal rape and murder of his colleague
Constance (Linney). The irony is that David and Constance were once
leading protestors against the death penalty. As David unfurls his
story to Bitsey, new truths come to light. Bitsey thinks she might be
able to save him.
The first half of the story is gripping in a whodunit sort of way, as we
travel through David's story collecting hints and clues as to what
happened and why. There are all sorts of red herrings along the way,
some of them hint at a huge conspiracy, others at petty jealousies. And
the adept cast make it compelling and very watchable (Linney is the
standout, while Mann gives the film's most disarmingly authentic
performance). Then it all starts to come together ... and if you've been
paying attention, the full truth becomes quite obvious a full 45
minutes before the chilling final shot. Well, it would be chilling if
we hadn't figured it all out 45 minutes earlier! The last act of the
story is just so overwrought and self-important that it undermines both
the strong narrative and any statement the film might have made about
capital punishment. Throughout the film it feels like Parker has no
faith in the audience, filling gaps with trite montages of meaningful
words, dropping tantalizing hints everywhere and merely using
life-and-death issues for cinematic purposes instead of engaging in any
meaningful examination of the themes.
Alan Parker's The Life of David Gale, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet, tells the story of a man whose life has fallen apart, and his search for redemption. While the film keeps up a cracking pace, the end result is nothing more than a half-decent whodunit that aspires to loftier heights than it can reach.
BY CAT BRIGHT
2.5 Popcorn Bags
Winslet is the unfortunately named Bitsey Bloom, a head-strong reporter for a major US newspaper chosen to interview the anti death-penalty spokesman David Gale just days before he is to be executed.
Philosophy professor Gale has called in Bitsey for a session of 'This Is My Life', so that he can be remembered as something more than a rapist and murderer. Bitsey, convinced of his guilt, is repelled by Gale but determined to complete the assignment to advance her own career.
Jumping headlong into the deep and meaningful, Professor Gale asks: what constitutes a worthwhile life? Apparently, it is living for your ideals.
Practising what he preaches is a little harder: His effectiveness as a spokesperson for death-penalty opponents Deathwatch is clouded by his ego and quick temper. Drunk at a party, he quickly falls victim to one of his more lusty students.
When he is accused of rape by said student, his charmed life quickly crumbles into alcoholism and despair and his search for redemption begins. David Gale's flaws of personality would've made a less complicated film more interesting. Instead, they muddle the message the film is trying to convey.
As a quickly melting Bitsey delves further, evidence comes to light that convinces her that Gale is innocent and she sets out to prove it.
Parker keeps the pace lively with twists and turns, but most in the audience will guess the final outcome long before the closing scene. Spacey on the whole turns in a good performance, as does Winslet who seems more comfortable when in emotional peril rather than as a hard nosed career woman. Laura Linney as the woman Gale is accused of murdering is consistently excellent.
Although the film brings up big issues it is incapable of
making sense of them in a coherent way. It therefore makes
no convincing arguments for or against the death penalty and
even less on what constitutes a worthwhile life.