[EDITOR'S NOTE & UPDATE 3/5/03: Due to popular demand, Scott has written an analysis and spoiler to this film (636 more words). If you would like to know the spoiler and get the extended analysis you'll find nowhere else on the net, go to our Premium Site and get all access ABSOLUTELY FREE.]
Alan Parker's "The Life of David Gale" is a disturbing film that lacks all morals while pretending to make a case against capital punishment. The story is a mess, and the directing is as liberal as the death penalty abolitionists themselves.
Professor David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is an active member of "Death Watch," an organization that is against the death penalty. But when Gale finds himself on death row for the rape and murder of a fellow "Watch" member, heads begin to turn. With three days to go before his execution, Gale calls for a city-magazine reporter to hear his story. Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is that reporter and travels to Texas (of all states) to get an interview. Each interview is two hours long, per day, for the three days Gale has left before he meets his maker.
Naturally, Bitsey is skeptic when Gale tells her that he's innocent, but she listens to his story anyway. After the first two-hour session, Bitsey is convinced that Gale was purposely set up and wrongly convicted by some right-wing nut who is out to prove the effectiveness of capital punishment.
The story of Gale and the events that led to his arrest and conviction are told in flashbacks that make up 90% of the movie. The other 10% are the scenes where Bloom is interviewing Gale, and when Bloom is playing detective with her intern, Zach (Gabriel Mann). The annoying effect used to show the transitions between past and present (the word guilty written on a chalk board) only serves to keep the audience for gazing off to the corner of the screen, where a grease spot is more entertaining than some of the really slow parts in the movie.
Some other directing techniques I didn't understand take place at the beginning of the film. Normally, I would be giving away a spoiler by telling you that the rental car breaks down at a pivotal point in the plot, but we see it happen in the opening act. The only thing we don't know (although we really do) from the beginning is what kind of evidence Bitsey has that may exonerate Gale just moments shy of his execution.
While investigating and looking for clues between interviews, Zach and Bitsey notice a shadowy figure following them. This figure, a man who wears a cowboy hat and drives a beat-up truck, is Dusty (Matt Craven). Dusty is one of the characters who follow the protagonists around just to be suspicious, but of course we know that he couldn't have been the real killer. Dusty magically shows up everywhere Bitsey and Zach are, yet they pay little attention to him.
But Dusty has something that will break the case; a videotape that captures the gruesome death of Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney), the woman thought to have been killed by Gale. The videotape is only a preview of the real thing; we don't see the rest until the end of the movie.
The acting is superbly done, but that is one of the few qualities of the film. Spacey and Winslet give good performances, but as memorable as they are, the film simply isn't. The is one of those movies where the reporter must race against the clock, but we don't care if she makes it in time.
The other good thing I have to say about the movie is the cinematography, led by Michael Seresin and designer Geoffrey Kirkland. They produce a good country feeling; highlighting subtle elements such as the dust kicking up from under the truck tires and the lazy skylines that hang over the drama taking place below. Parker's sons, Alex and Jake, produce a good score that fits the Texas mood.
The filmmakers must have known how uninterested audiences will be, so they took the liberty of adding in unnecessary sympathy-boosting characters. We find out in one of the flashbacks how the events have torn Gale away from his family, more specifically his son Jamie, who prefers pancakes with blueberries at breakfast time. This meal will make a great last request later on. There is also a stuffed animal thrown in somewhere that gets shipped from character to character.
"The Life of David Gale" crawls at a boring pace and doesn't pick up until near the end, but by that time we've lost all interest. Pathetic attempts are made to make the movie more suspenseful, such as creepy music when Bitsey and Zach walk into a dark hotel room. They slowly inspect every corner, and finally reach the dark bathroom where the door is only slightly ajar. Bitsey grabs the shower curtains, and yanks them to the side to reveal a bunch of nothing. Every time she touches Zach on the shoulder to get his attention, he jumps, and vice versa.
There is a final twist in Charles Randolph's story, and it makes absolutely no sense. I was ready to grade this movie somewhere in the 'C' range, but the climax justifies the horrible reviews the movie has been getting. In just one scene, the final clip contradicts the two hours and 10 minutes of contrived substance that proceeds it.
I have a question for everyone who has seen "The Life of David Gale." Is this movie really against capital punishment, or for it? After the final scene and last twist, was there even a purpose for the interview? Was there a purpose for this movie being made?