Thursday, June 30, 2005

Movie Review: The Amityville Horror (2005)

United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 4/15/05 (wide)
Running Time: 1:25
Rated: R (Violence, gore, scary images, brief nudity, sexual situations, drug use)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloë Grace Moretz, Rachel Nichols, Philip Baker Hall

Director: Andrew Douglas
Producers: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller
Screenplay: Scott Kosar, based on the novel by Jay Anson and the screenplay by Sandor Stern
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Studio: MGM/Dimension Films

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The Amityville Horror flashes the phrase, “Based on the True Story,” at its beginning. However, the film tests how far one can teeter with the words, “based on.” Considering only the film’s first five minutes are “based on” the actual story and the rest of the running-time is just winged to assist in raising the scare factor, The Amityville Horror is a total traitor of an adaptation. Despite it being light years ahead of its time compared to the original, The Amityville Horror doesn’t accomplish much more than a few solid frights.

While living in a large white house—considered to be cursed, Ronald Defeo slays his wife and children and then claims that voices from within his house told him to murder his family. One year later, Kathy Lutz (Melissa George) and her new husband George (Ryan Reynolds) are in the market for a new house. The couple stumbles upon a house that, at a glance, appears to be out of their price range, but in fact, it is a hellacious deal. “What’s the catch?” says George; “There is always a catch.”

This question prompts the real-estate agent to inform the man and woman that one year prior, a family was murdered in the house and the slayer said that “the house made him do it.” George retorts, “Houses don’t kill people; people kill people.” Thus, they decide to make a down payment and move in. Consequently, George soon finds himself following in Ronald Defeo’s footsteps—descending into wickedness with each passing day.

In terms of horror, The Amityville Horror is respectable. Aside from the “boo” moments, Amityville even has a few scenes that both make your skin crawl and your blood curdle. On the other hand, scares are really all The Amityville Horror has to flaunt—that is, with the exception of Ryan Reynolds’ ripped upper-body.

Ryan Reynolds fairs well in his dramatic turn. After completing several substandard comedies (Van Wilder, The In-Laws, and Blade: Trinity), here Reynolds takes on the body of a wrestler and the beard of Ryan Gosling from The Notebook. Aside from Reynolds, all of Amityville’s other acting is entirely forgettable.

With The Amityville Horror, there is a lot to complain about. For starters, the move-in montage is tasteless, and the characters’ clothes rarely fit the 1974 timeframe. Also, the story itself is anti-climactic and borders on annoying when it depicts Kathy and George each giving the children cheap advice while the other listens from outside the doorway. What’s more, the inclusion of the sexy, over-confident babysitter (Rachel Nichols) who smokes pot, is damaging to the film; it only represents a reason to further excite the film’s core audience of teenage boys. Also, why is the phrase, “Catch ‘em,” spelled with a “K?” Finally, if mainstream Hollywood incorporates one more frantic search through a local library’s archived newspapers, I will personally pen a complaint letter.

For those of you who enjoy the horror genre, Amityville will most likely do the trick. However, for the moviegoers who enjoy more substance than scares, The Amityville Horror will be yet another second-rate choice on horror rental shelves come late October. While this revamped version is an improvement on the original, it basically just provides a deeper means to fear the two quarter-circle windows that have burned themselves into everyone’s brain. (** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Movie Review: Hostage

United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 3/11/05
Running Time: 1:53
Rated: R (Violence, profanity)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak, Jonathan Tucker, Ben Foster, Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn, Marshall Allman, Serena Scott Thomas, Rumer Willis

Director: Florent Siri
Producers: Mark Gordon, Arnold Rifkin, Bruce Willis, Bob Yari
Screenplay: Doug Richardson, based on the novel by Robert Crais
Music: Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci
Studio: Miramax Films

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With Bruce Willis now in his fifties, his legit action-star clock is ticking. Then again, Hostage presents conditioning for Willis to once again take on his iconic persona of John McClane in the impending Die Hard 4.0. However, unlike the Die Hard films, Hostage is spotted with a handful of tension truisms and a heightened suspension of disbelief. Yet, even though it could be considered a staple and somewhat-implausible action-thriller, Hostage is taut, gripping, and aptly-titled.

After witnessing a mother and child brutally murdered – on his watch – as an LAPD negotiator, Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) shifted occupations and became the police chief of a less-hectic community in Ventura County, California. While Jeff’s relationships with his wife Jane (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter Amanda (Rumer Willis) seem to be on the rocks, deep-down Talley loves his family and would do anything to protect them.

Once a hostage situation arises in Talley’s territory, he takes command as the hostage negotiator—that is, until he readily turns over control to a higher authority. An accountant, Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak), and his two children Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) and Jennifer (Michelle Horn) are held captive by three intruders—two brothers Dennis (Jonathan Tucker) and Kevin Kelly (Marshall Allman) and Dennis’s new friend Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster). However, what Jeff doesn’t know is that Walter is an important man. A threat is made on the lives of Jeff’s wife and daughter; if he doesn’t resolve the hostage situation, his family will be slain. Jeff must maintain his composure and save a stranger and his family to ensure that the two women he loves the most are safe.

During its opening credits, Hostage displays a graphic blend of blacks, whites, and reds which exhibits first-time cinematic director Florent Siri’s fine sense of scope. Formerly a video game director, Siri exudes poise with a medley of visionary tenacity, dramatic fluency, and edge-of-your-seat suspense. Without a doubt, his work here will earn him enough accreditation to keep him on the Hollywood market.

Then again, when Bruce Willis is in command, he makes any production his own. Willis oozes with his typical action charm as though he is no where near being “over the hill.” As always, with Willis as the lead, he makes the movie worth your time and money.

In the case of Hostage, a picture that works on every level it aims for, it is the able combo of Willis and Siri that make this popcorn outing a surefire success. While Hostage may be stock on action, it is border-line nightmarish at its close and fresh enough to be called engrossing. Get your hands on Hostage, and don’t let go. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Movie Review: Batman Begins

United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 6/15/05
Running Length: 2:20
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, disturbing images)
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer

Director: Christopher Nolan
Producers: Larry J. Franco, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Music: James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer
Studio: Warner Brothers

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With an eight-year gap in the Caped Crusader’s screen-time, Warner Brothers hopes that audiences can forgive them for Joel Schumacher’s two Batman droppings (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin) and grant the Dark Knight another chance to start anew. Considering Batman Begins contains the term “begins” it its title, the film itself undertakes the gutsy restoration of both Burton’s and (more so) Schumacher’s injustice to the saga of Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego—and, oh boy does it deliver. With the immensely talented Christopher Nolan in the director’s chair, both the revival of a legend and the best superhero story – ever – have surfaced.

After witnessing his mother and father being murdered, Bruce Wayne – the heir to Wayne Enterprises – withdraws from his lucrative lifestyle and becomes a prisoner. Once he is rescued from his imprisonment, by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), he trains to join Ducard’s League of Shadows—a group of vigilantes, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe).

Following the completion of his training, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) returns to Gotham City and becomes Batman. With his bat suit, car, and weaponry, Batman takes on the likes of mob boss, Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), whose knowledge of pharmaceuticals assists him in poisoning his prey. But, Bruce is not out for everyone; he does have his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), a handy Q-esque hook-up, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), and the only “good” cop left in the city, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman).

Nolan directs the transformation of Bruce Wayne, from kid to criminal and from criminal to Batman, with the utmost of care. One of Batman Begins strongest suits is that the story is credible; the suspension of disbelief is low, and the effort taken to both construct and develop Bruce Wayne – as a man – is high. Viewers feel for both his affinity to fight crime and his choice to become a force to be reckoned with—creating a character that is easy to both root for and relate to.

By far, Christian Bale is the best embodiment of Batman yet. In comparison to the other actors who have previously played the Dark Knight of Gotham City, Bale edges out Keaton with his multi-dimensionality and blows Kilmer, Clooney, and West out of the water with his intensity. Regardless of which scene he is in, Bale is equally convincing as both the billionaire heir and the nocturnal threat to all that is unlawful.

Michael Caine and Liam Neeson are equally outstanding, while Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Gary Oldman, and Tom Wilkinson all hold their own—given their limited presence. Conversely, it is Cillian Murphy who steals the show from all others, excluding Bale, with his crazed interpretation of Dr. Crane. Katie Holmes, as Wayne’s damsel in distress, is the weak spot of the cast. Her character’s emotions feel strained, and unlike Mary Jane in Spider-Man, Rachel never fully connects with Bruce on an emotional level.

Conversely, the shadowy score connects with the film’s overall disposition. James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer have collaborated to create a dark atmosphere that matches the brooding mood of both the cartoon and the comic book. Nolan’s choice to use two gifted score writers instead of one, definitely paid off—considering both conductors’ flavors are equally audible.

Batman Begins is not only a prequel to Tim Burton’s 1989 original, but it is also a new beginning – a renaissance of the DC Comic hero – with “beginning” being the key word. The entire production team has already made a verbal commitment to a trilogy—making Begins the start of something grand. Without a doubt, the success of Batman Begins puts a smile on the faces of both the WB bigwigs and moviegoers around the world. In fact, this superb superhero feature, that features a protagonist who possesses no superpowers, is nearly as captivating as a bat’s night-time means of echolocation. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Movie Review: Hitch

United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 2/11/05
Running Time: 1:56
Rated: PG-13 (Sexual situations, profanity)
Cast: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Julie Ann Emery

Director: Andy Tennant
Producers: James Lassiter, Will Smith, Teddy Zee
Screenplay: Kevin Bisch
Music: George Fenton
Studio: Columbia Pictures

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Since the mid-‘90s, Will Smith has been a blockbuster name; wherever he goes in Hollywood, the fans and money follow. With Hitch, the case is no different. Hitch grossed just over $172 million theatrically, and it had good reason to. It is bubbly, comedic, and intelligent—albeit formulaic, and for a couple searching for a respectable romantic-comedy to watch, Hitch offers an entertaining evening to say the least. While it may be a tad clichéd and mechanical, Hitch gives the audience what it wants—a few good laughs throughout and a warm smile at its close.

It is a factual certainty that women make men weak in the knees. When attempting to obtain a date with a desirable woman, guys primarily fumble for words and stare at curves. For this Achilles' heel, there is a remedy...and his name is Hitch.

Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) is a self-proclaimed “Date Doctor,” who provides romantically-challenged men with the confidence and capability they need to not only approach, but also woo the woman they want. Hitch’s latest client, Albert Brenneman (Kevin James), serves as his greatest challenge, or as he says, his “Sistine Chapel.” Albert is an overweight, apprehensive, and clumsy man who is smitten with his company’s most prominent client, named Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Hitch provides Albert with everything he has, in hopes to bring the fat man and the phenomenal female together, but it is ultimately up to Albert to impress his burning crush with his corny charm.

Meanwhile, Hitch meets world-weary gossip columnist, Sara Melas (Eva Mendes). A relationship begins to bud between the two. Conversely, for some reason, Hitch can’t seem to apply the very same love tactics he teaches to other men in need.

Will Smith reunites with the very same charisma that landed him the role of The Fresh Prince, but this time he plays the guy who gets the girl. It is good to see Smith still succeed outside of the action genre; he plays the Date Doctor with smoothness and flair. However, it is Kevin James who steals every scene in which he inhabits. If there is one thing this film could have used more of, it is definitely The King of Queens. Kevin James makes the transition from CBS TV star to Will Smith’s supporting actor with ease. In fact, in the future, do not be surprised to see him soon in more starring roles on the big-screen and less shows on the small-screen.

Even with all of the comedic moments from the duo of Smith and James, the script has a handful of sharp things to say. The remarks on how to use active listening, body language, and poise to connect with a woman are all words that every man should hear. And, the quote, “Any man has a chance to sweep any woman off her feet; he just needs the right broom,” serves as not only an apt tagline, but also a clever metaphor.

The best aspect of Hitch is certainly the chemistry the cast exudes, and when four leads mesh this well together, the film has recommendation written all over it. With its consistently amiable script and its sweet – yet inevitable – happily-ever-after ending, Hitch is quality entertainment that deserves a date. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Movie Review: Kicking and Screaming

United States, 2005
Running Time: 1:36
Rated: PG (thematic elements, language and some crude humor)
Cast: Will Ferrell, Robert Duvall, Mike Ditka, Kate Walsh, Musetta Vander, Dylan McLaughlin, Josh Hutcherson, Steven Anthony Lawrence

Director: Jesse Dylan
Producers: Judd Apatow, Daniel Lupi, and Lata Ryan
Screenplay: Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick
Music: Mark Isham and David Newman
Studio: Universal Studios

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What do kids do when they can’t get their way? They kick and scream. What an appropriate title for Will Ferrell’s latest—considering each and every audience member, be it kid or adult, will most likely throw a tantrum over Kicking and Screaming’s ordinariness and shortcomings. Unfortunately, not even Ferrell’s physical antics can save this cookie-cutter kiddy comedy from being unexceptional and just plain unfunny.

Ever since Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) could hold a ball in his hand, he has undercut his competitive father’s expectations. Phil has never beaten his father Buck (Robert Duvall) in anything, and every time Phil seems to do something grand, his arrogant father one-ups him. When Phil announces his engagement, so does his father—to a younger and prettier woman; when Phil has a child, so does his dad—and it is no surprise when Buck’s son, Bucky (Josh Hutcherson), is one ounce heavier than Phil’s son, Sam (Dylan McLaughlin). With Buck, everything is a competition.

However, when Phil gets the opportunity to coach Sam’s soccer team and go up against his father’s team, he jumps at the chance. Once Phil’s team starts to win, Phil becomes overly obsessed with winning and – just like his champion father – does anything and everything to avoid losing.

Phil becomes a monster, and his transformation from a klutzy dork into a Bobby Knight wannabe, really isn’t as funny as one would think. In fact, it is a little tiresome. Watching Ferrell pushing kids to the ground, encouraging his players to “break someone’s clavicle,” and forcing parents to run laps, only provides enough chuckles to count on one hand and further downgrades the already deprived script. Ferrell has finally come down off of his four-picture high.

While Kicking and Screaming serves as a train-wreck for Will Ferrell, it serves as a vehicle for Mike Ditka. Ditka, who plays himself, is Phil’s assistant coach and Buck’s raucous neighbor. Even though the man who led the Chicago Bears to the ’85 Super Bowl may be a dynamic motivator, the same cannot be said for his acting ability. To put it simply: Ditka cannot act. In fact, with him included, the film seems more like an SNL sketch with Mike Ditka as the host.

At most, Kicking and Screaming is fair-weather. Just like Farrell’s character, this film has the coordination of a baby giraffe and the agility of an elephant. Instead of gag after gag, it is yawn after yawn. Similar to Little Giants, Kicking and Screaming is truly an underdog family comedy that never gives families a reason to get excited. Before this child’s play even began production, someone should have blown the whistle and gave K&S a red card. (** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Movie Review: High Tension (Haute Tension)

France, 2003
U.S. Release Date: 6/10/05 (wide)
Running Time: 1:25
Rated: R (Violence, gore, sexual situations, nudity)
Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andrei Finti, Oana Pellea

Director: Alexandre Aja
Producers: Alexandre Arcady, Robert Benmussa
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur
Music: François Eudes
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Dubbed into English

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Warning: This review contains comments that some may perceive as spoilers.

After a few mildly distracting overdubs, High Tension’s viscera begins to churn, and from there, it never lets up. Within High Tension’s first hour or so there is much to praise; the terror is top-shelf, the score (which is comprised of more wind, creaks, and static rather than music) is outstanding, and the killer is perhaps the most psychotic and merciless in recent horror history. However, during the film’s off-kilter climax, all hell breaks lose. In terms of horror, suspense, and tension, High Tension does indeed rank high, but in its final ten minutes this otherwise superlative feature spirals into senselessness.

In an overused fashion, High Tension reveals a piece of the conclusion in its opening sequence. The audience observes the film’s lead running through the woods—covered in blood with a stab wound to the stomach. This scene builds a platform as to where the rest of the film will lead.

Rewind one day. Alex (Maïwenn) and her friend Marie (Cecile de France) are traveling to Alex’s house to cram for their upcoming college exams. Once they arrive, Alex introduces Marie to her mother, father, and brother, and shows Marie her room. When the lights go out, a creepy truck – reminiscent of the vehicle seen in Jeepers Creepers – approaches the house. A man (Philippe Nahon) exits this vehicle, rings the doorbell, and – once he is greeted at the door – begins butchering every member of Alex’s family. It is not until Alex is chained, gagged, and thrown into the back of the killer’s rusty truck, when Marie attempts to fend for both her and her friend’s lives.

How the entire production team sat through the filming of this feature without screaming, “Wait! Stop! None of this makes sense!” is absolutely beyond me. The filmmakers’ have previously tried to explain the picture’s numerous plot holes by claiming that the story is supposed to be told through the deranged killer’s point of view. However, this still doesn’t explain how one person can be in two different places at the same time on more than one occasion. If only Aja had stuck to convention and avoided an attempt at ingenuity, his effort would have then been one of the most impressive horror films to date.

Without the twist, this film would have easily been given a three-and-one-half star rating, but because Aja takes the most irrational of routes – thereby plummeting the plot into utter implausibility – High Tension drops a full star on the rating scale. For those who are true horror aficionados, High Tension is worth a trip to the theater, but, upon exiting, everyone will almost certainly share in my frustration. If you enjoy copious amounts of blood and gore, High Tension is the fix you have been looking for, but if you possess a functional brain, the territory the film treads into will easily prove to be illogical. Unlike Maxwell House, this bloody ode to American horror is not “good ‘til the last drop”; sadly, in the case of High Tension, it is the last drop that spoils the whole pot. (**1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Movie Review: The Godfather

United States, 1972
Running Time: 2:51
Rated: R (Violence, mature themes, language, brief nudity)
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Al Lettieri, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, John Cazale, Richard Conte, Al Martino

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producer: Albert S. Ruddy
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo based on the novel by Mario Puzo
Music: Nino Rota
Studio: Paramount Pictures

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There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said concerning the excellence of The Godfather. Nonetheless, I present the umpteenth dissertation on why not giving The Godfather four out of four stars is about as unjust as sentencing an innocent man to death.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 effort is truly an epic for the ages. The acting, directing, cinematography, score, and script are all of the highest possible caliber—making the near three-hour running time more of a blessing than an inconvenience. The Godfather is not only the Don of all Mafia melodrama, but it is also the standard grade of superiority for critics and filmmakers alike.

Based on Mario Puzo’s bestseller of the same name, the story begins in 1945 at the wedding of Connie (Talia Shire), the daughter of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). Even on his daughter’s day of celebration, Don Vito still manages to take care of “business.” After a few men grace his presence and ask for a few favors – revenge, a leading role, etc. – the Don unites with his family for the ceremony. His youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), who has recently returned home from war a hero, brings his new love Kay (Diane Keaton), and the Don's two older sons, Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale), along with his “adopted” son and consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), also come to celebrate their sister’s special occasion.

With each of the five major mob families straining to gain ground on one another, the budding industry of narcotics presents a forum for a few to achieve a competitive advantage. However, it is Don Vito who declines Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), the drug supplier, of his offer to commence an involvement in narcotics trafficking. His son and heir apparent, Sonny, obviously disagrees with his father’s choice – seeing that drugs are the wave of the future – but the Godfather does not concede. Don Vito understands that the drug industry is a cutthroat business where friends are few and far between. It is this rejection that spirals the Corleone family down a brutal one-way street that will both cost the five families many lives, and allow a new Don to emerge.

Al Pacino plays the supporting role of Michael with fire in his eyes. His transformation, from a civilian to a Godfather in both senses of the term, is the film’s main and most dynamic storyline. In almost every sense, Pacino steals the thunder out from under Brando; nonetheless, Brando’s role is perhaps the most iconic role in all of cinema. His character, styled after real life mobster Frank Costello, is one of the films many highlights.

Despite an unmistakable missed punch, a few continuity issues, and an abundance of character roles to keep straight, The Godfather remains one of the most influential films in cinematic history. Not only will Brando’s husky whisper continue to be copied for generations to come, but also the only fruit that shares its name with its color will always signify an impending death or violent incident.

Aside from all of the orange metaphors, The Godfather’s resounding themes on the duality of man – love and hate, good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, and family and violence – allow it to emit an atmosphere like no other film. The Godfather is the utter embodiment of the ultimate “guy film”, yet whether you are a male or female or a frequent or infrequent moviegoer is not dependent on how much appeal you will hold towards this first-rate pulp crime drama. Regardless of your status, you will be taken aback by its magnificence.

On The Internet Movie Database’s website, The Godfather is listed as the number one favorite movie of all time, and on The American Film Institute’s chart of the “100 Years…100 Movies,” it is listed as the number three greatest film. First or third, there is no question why The Godfather holds a spot on a gaggle of Top 10 lists, mine included. It is a seminal classic that will only continue to steamroll sovereignty, praise, and admiration. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Monday, June 06, 2005

Movie Review: The Life of David Gale

United States, 2003
U.S. Release Date: 2/21/03 (wide)
Running Time: 2:10
Rated: R (Nudity, violence, profanity, sexual situations)
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven, Rhona Mitra, Leon Rippy

Director: Alan Parker
Producers: Nicolas Cage, Alan Parker
Screenplay: Charles Randolph
Music: Alex Parker
Studio: Universal Pictures

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In my opinion, The Life of David Gale is a thriller/mystery with a sharp blend of plot and politics. However, a highly notable critic disagrees whole-heartedly.

On February 21, 2003, Roger Ebert reviewed The Life of David Gale and gave it zero out of four stars—claiming that this film could not have been set in Texas. To quote Ebert directly, he said that, "While Texas continues to warehouse condemned men with a system involving lawyers who are drunk, asleep or absent, confessions that are beaten out of the helpless, and juries that overwhelmingly prefer to execute black defendants instead of white ones, you can't make this movie. Not in Texas."

It is because of Texas's exceedingly high execution rate, that people relate the death penalty with Texas and vice versa. The impact of choosing Texas for the backdrop works for that very reason. Using some other state like Illinois, which Ebert suggests, would have been less effective in getting the picture’s anti-death penalty message across. Ebert should realize that this is a movie, not a true story or even based on a true story. Even if some of the politics may be a little stretched and the main plot may be, as Ebert writes, "an absurdly ironic development," this film still provides intellect, thrills, and mystery, which is something most films in this genre do not faithfully dish-out.

David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is a psychology professor at the University of Austin, an author of several books, and a member of the national death row abolitionist group called "Death Watch.” After being accused of the rape and murder of Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney) and then losing both his job and family, David Gale finds himself on death row for murder—claiming that he was framed by conservative, right-wing, capital punishment supporters. As he sits on death row with only three days until his execution, he tells his story to reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet). From there, this "who done it and why" murder mystery becomes a race against the clock. Will Bitsy be able to prove Gale’s innocence in the limited three day’s time?

While Kevin Spacey still gives off his usual depressed aura as Gale, he does add some brains to spice up his excellent character interpretation. Alongside Spacey, Laura Linney creates a super dramatic performance that is deserving of multiple merits. Surely her role seen here will earn her future casting calls for more daring and extraordinary leads. In addition, Kate Winslet's portrayal of Bitsey Bloom is credible and noteworthy. Also, both Rhona Mitra, as Berlin, and Leon Rippy, as Braxton Belyou (Gale's attorney), make for excellent additions to the cast.

With The Life of David Gale, it is necessary to pay attention to detail; the film does not spell everything out. While you may have some critical thinking to do during the feature and some questions to ask afterward, the astute viewers should be able to answer all of these queries. Even so, for those who don't catch everything in one viewing, you will most likely notice both the drunken wandering Socrates speech and the shrewd Judas comparison. Both of these scenes are both very keen on philosophy and prove that between David and Constance, there is a profusion of delectable discourse to be heard.

Typically, films that contain an abundance of political dialogue, such as this one, come across as preachy. Thankfully, at no point does The Life of David Gale feel like a drawn-out, definitive sermon. It instead allows viewers to have or make their own opinion about the Death Penalty and does not ask them otherwise. Although, the movie may shed enough light on the matter to possibly reconstitute a few capital punishment advocates’ beliefs.

When Hollywood strives to leave a lasting impression and enlighten viewers about a touchy topic and its two polar extremes, in most cases, it is either a love it or hate it condition. Nevertheless, for anyone who is willing to open up and watch The Life of David Gale, just remember: unlike Ebert, take it for what it is worth. Aside from the sticklers of the United States judicial system and its methodology, most will find The Life of David Gale’s storyline to be provocative and its conclusion to be striking. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005