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The Life Of David Gale (R)
Official Site
Director: Alan Parker
Producers: Alan Parker, Nicolas Cage, Jeff Levine
Written by: Charles Randolph
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven

Rating: out of 5

I entered the theater ready to be inspired. Yeah, guys, I’m against capital punishment too! Let’s fight the system. I emerged feeling a little cheated by The Life Of David Gale.

And let me tell you, no advocate of the death penalty will be persuaded to reconsider by this film.

We meet David Gale (Spacey) behind bars, at the Texas state prison in Huntsville. He’s solicited New York journalist Bitsey Bloom (Winslet) for a series of three interviews on the three afternoons preceding his execution. Why Bitsey? Because she’s got so much journalistic integrity—after all, she just spent a well-publicized week in jail for not revealing sources from her last assignment.

Gale retells his story in flashbacks, touching upon his close relationship with his young son and his disintegrating marriage with Mrs. Gale, who is having a not-so-secret affair in Barcelona. We see brilliant philosophy professor Gale lecturing on the nature of human desire to a class at the fictitious University of Austin, which bears a striking resemblance to the University of Texas at Austin.

A provocative female grad student comes on ridiculously strong at a philosophy department party one night. Apparently helpless against her aggression, the two get it on in the bathroom, in a quite awkward and gratuitous sex scene. Then she cries rape, for no apparent reason, drops the charges and flees town.

Gale’s life falls apart. He loses his job, his wife emails him a request for divorce and jets off to Spain with their son. Gale hits the bottle and spends a lengthy scene stumbling down Sixth Street, ranting incomprehensibly about Plato and Socrates.

Throw in a shadowy cowboy in a beat-up truck ominously following Bitsey wherever she goes; a sketchy lawyer with a thick Alabama accent and really gross teeth; and a goofy male intern, sent along for his testosterone, on the trip with Bitsey.

There is some confusion as to the timeline, but at some point, Gale ends up on death row for raping and murdering his angelic colleague, Constance (Linney), a fellow anti-capital punishment activist. There’s no question that Gale is innocent. The “evidence” of rape was due to the sexual relationship he started up with Constance after she revealed she had leukemia.

Once Bitsey finally realizes it was a setup, she stays up all night poring over evidence. Conveniently, the house where the “murder” took place has been converted into a weird little museum of the crime scene. After someone delivers a videotape of Constance dying, Bitsey inexplicably recreates the crime scene, placing herself in the victim’s position. And suddenly, she solves the mystery.

Though Spacey and Linney give fine performances and the basic concept is clever and original, the movie is chock full of clichés, overdone Southern accents, and manipulations of the audience’s emotions. And flat characters. Constance is perfect: calm, passionate, smart, and attractive. No one would ever think of murdering such a lovely and upstanding citizen. Bitsey Bloom is a stereotypically bitchy magazine journalist given the impossible task of saving this man’s life in 72 hours or less.

Parker has received Best Director Oscar nominations (Midnight Express and Mississippi Burning) for “issues” movies, yet The Life Of David Gale includes some pretty heavy-handed directorial choices. Like a shot of Gale from above, napping on the grass, arms spread like Jesus on the crucifix. Or having Bitsey sprint through a cemetery on her mission to present some newfound evidence before Gale’s lethal injection.

It’s all just a little too purposeful. Rent it if you must.

—Michelle Fajkus


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

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