Mark Reviews Movies


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Alan Parker

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven, Rhona Mitra, Leon Rippy

MPAA Rating:  (for violent images, nudity, language and sexuality)

Running Time: 2:10

Release Date: 2/21/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

The saddest thing about The Life of David Gale is that I agree with its position on the death penalty. It's sad because the movie takes that stance and dumbs it down to the lowest common denominator and then goes ahead and insults it and the audience with one final, predictable twist that is entirely contrary to everything that came before it and should give people of the opposing view a reason to celebrate. Honestly, the movie is bad enough without its ultimate, revelatory shot that inadvertently puts such a negative spin on the opponents of capital punishment as to potentially have an incredibly adverse effect on future debates surrounding the issue. Take note opponents of opponents of the death penalty: The Life of David Gale does not speak for everyone who opposes capital punishment. Even so, on a dramatic level, the movie is also failure. It's manipulative, overblown, clichéd, and features banal and script-driven character arcs. It's the type of preaching the choir would walk out on.

New York journalist Bitsey (yes, Bitsey) Bloom (Kate Winslet) has recently spent time in prison on a contempt of court charge for protecting sources in a child pornography article. It's a double-edged sword for her: her journalistic integrity is obvious but she also protected perverts. For some reason, this causes a problem when a new story comes up. Bitsey is asked to interview Dr. David Gale (Kevin Spacey), a formerly outspoken death penalty opponent who is ironically now on death row for the rape and murder of a fellow activist named Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney). Because of the debacle in her recent past, her editor decides that perhaps a woman on her own would not be the best choice to interview this man. Why? Because it gives an excuse to send along the intern Zack (Gabriel Mann). So she heads down to Texas where Gale relates his admiration for her objectivity and integrity and begins to tell the story of how he was once at the top of his field and the events that slowly brought him down.

The flashbacks are cut into the present narrative with an annoying camera move in which the entire room spins upside-down while flashes of text appear on screen. That's probably the least obnoxious thing about the movie, and what accounts for the rest of it is primarily due to the predictable, gimmicky, and hamfisted screenplay by Charles Randolph. Everything about the script as it plays out on screen reeks of the omnipotent force of someone behind the action trying to get from point A to point B, even if it means heading out into point W, X, and sometimes Y territory. Hell, some of it isn't anywhere near the alphabetical chart. Randolph institutes such tired tricks as the car that breaks down at the most inopportune moment, the cellular phone that's out of range, the late revelation of a terminal illness, and a missing piece of evidence that could clear everything up. The movie even travels to David Lynch country with an enigmatic, ubiquitous cowboy who must have planted some sort of global positioning device on Bitsey and Zack.

Where Randolph really falls flat is in his characterizations and presentation of the issue at hand. The cast is left dangling with forced development and incredibly awkward scenes that try to clear everything up. Kate Winslet is wasted with the obligatory role of the person must undergo a transition from supporter to detractor, and her scenes of realization are inherently false. Poor Kevin Spacey gives away too much too soon by playing Gale as the smuggest man to be four days away from his execution. Gale's story is vital to putting the larger issue in a personal context, but it is so calculating and simplistic that it's laughable. Same goes for the discussion of capital punishment. The movie throws out facts, like that there are more inmates per capita in Texas than in China and that most religions oppose the death penalty, but the other side is determinably silent. There are moments, but they're slanted. There's the governor, who in the midst of the debate is trapped into being compared to Hitler. Then at the end, after we've learned the important parts of the truth, people from the other side begin to talk. The thing is that, within the context of what's happening, they're wrong.

The Life of David Gale undermines an important issue facing our country today. It's terribly manipulative, sensationalistic, and one-sided, and it isn't going to change anyone's mind on the topic. Here's an idea, though. We know Gale is innocent from the start; he has to be. Wouldn't a more challenging approach be taken and a better statement made if he were guilty? Think about it. It would ask the audience to do some actual evaluation. Is this man's life worth the price of the crime he committed? Instead, the filmmakers assume that they have to do all the thinking for us.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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