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Movie Review: The Life Of David Gale, February 23, 2003
Guest_TSMAdmin_*
post Mar 29 2003, 06:31 PM
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THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE

Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, and Laura Linney
Written by Charles Randolph
Directed by Alan Parker
Rated R; 130 minutes


It would be nice if I could say that once you get past the blatant anti-death penalty propaganda, cloying melodrama, and bad storytelling, The Life Of David Gale is still something that's somehow worth seeing. However, you really can’t get past the blatant anti-death penalty propaganda, cloying melodrama, and bad storytelling, because The Life Of David Gale is just that bad a movie.

David Gale (Spacey) is a professor of philosophy, an undeniably brilliant man, and a staunch opponent of the death penalty. He is a member of the group Deathwatch, along with colleague Constance Hallaway (Linney). Neither of their lives are going anywhere, though, meaning they’re both under something of a deathwatch themselves. Hallaway is dying of leukemia, and Gale is an accused rapist with a drinking problem and a soon-to-be ex-wife who has taken their son out of the country.

When Constance is found raped and murdered, David Gale is arrested as the suspect. It looks like an open-and-shut case: his semen was found inside her, and his fingerprints were all over the crime scene. Gale has done nothing to protest his innocence until four days before his execution in Texas, however. National magazine reporter Bitsey Bloom (Winslet) is sent to get Gale’s side of the story. She was hand-picked by Gale for her journalistic integrity, in the form of going to jail to protect a source in a kiddie-porn story. That tendency of Bloom is never explored in the movie; Gale could have picked her because she had a nice face, and what passes for the story would not have suffered in any way.

Though skeptical of Gale’s innocence at first, Bloom becomes convinced of it by their last of three two-hour interview sessions. She still has to prove it, though, and get that proof in time to stop Gale’s execution.

I usually don’t reveal much about how movies end, but my hope is that none of you will see this waste of celluloid after reading this, so I’m going to go ahead and do it. If you’re particularly averse to reading spoilers for lousy, proselytizing films, however, you’d do well to skip the next paragraph.

Through her investigations and a mysterious videotape, Bloom manages to reconstruct the crime scene. She arrives at the conclusion that Hallaway killed herself, even though the manner of suicide seems downright Rube Goldbergian compared to a simple hanging. The reason, of course, is to send an innocent man – in this case, David Gale – to death row for a crime he never committed, thus proving the system does not work. The epilogue reveals that Gale was in on the plot the whole time, leading to a huge flaw in the film’s tenuous sense of logic. In executing someone who willingly participated in the death of another person, the justice system showed that it in fact DOES work, not the opposite. Not only did the mythical David Gale die in vain, but the movie about his mythical death has a house of cards for its foundation. The fact that this scenario was heavily foreshadowed throughout the movie makes it even worse.

That egregious lapse in thinking is only one bad aspect of the movie, however. Also annoying is its repeated sledgehammering of the audience with its anti-death penalty message. If someone wants to make a movie that features their political beliefs, fine. The line is crossed when the audience who pays to see the film is treated like a bunch of simpletons, only persuaded by stylized screeds, blatant metaphors, statistics, a lot of talking, and a general delivery of the message via jackhammer. The Life Of David Gale has none of the virtues that Dead Man Walking had, even though their messages are almost identical.

Kevin Spacey, owner of two Oscars, and a wonderfully talented actor, is wasted in a film like this. George Clooney and Nicolas Cage obviously rejected the role for a reason. After triumphs like The Usual Suspects and American Beauty, Spacey has not found a suitable vehicle for his talents since. It’s frustrating to watch him spin his considerable wheels in a pit of mud the movie is only too happy to provide.

The Life Of David Gale is definitely a movie with a message, and there’s no way anyone in the audience could miss it unless they were fortunate enough to sleep through the last 125 minutes. Full of melodrama and disrespect for its audience, this is a movie that should be avoided by anyone who can find a better way to spend their $8.50. I prefer not to be beaten up and insulted while subjected to propaganda, but if your tastes run more masochistic than mine, you might enjoy that kind of thing. My condolences in advance, if that’s the case. 1/10

Dr. Tom
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