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
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
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
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.