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