Life of David Gale, The

Rated: R
Stars:   Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, Kate Winslet, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven, Leon Rippy
Director:    Alan Parker
Screenwriter:    Charles Randolph

The Life of David Gale is a disturbing film, partly because of how the subject matter is depicted, and partly because, in the end, it’s so dissatisfying as a film.

Kevin Spacey plays Dr. David Gale, a brilliant philosophy professor and author who, along with colleague Constance Harraway (Laura Linney) is a strong anti-capital-punishment activist. When we first see Gale, it’s in a maximum security prison in Texas, convicted of Constance’s rape and murder and preparing to be executed in 72 hours. His sad story unfolds in flashbacks as told to a strappy newsmagazine reporter by the name of Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) who arrives convinced of his guilt. The reason Gale gives for opening up to her is to reveal the man behind the crime, plus he and his ditsy lawyer have finagled a quarter of a million dollar interview payment from the magazine.

Gale talks; Bitsey listens. And as more is revealed, the more it seems as if David were framed. His life had become one big snowball effect. First it was marital problems that threatened his relationship with his son; he’s also an alcoholic; then he’s wrongly accused of raping a student who set him up for a better grade; his career goes bust; he loses wife and son and finally, they don’t even want him hanging around the anti-capital-punishment offices of “Death Watch”.

Gale’s sure he’s going to die but would at least like to know why. And yes, it probably would be nice if Bitsey and her trusted intern-assistant Zack Stemmons (Gabriel Mann) could discover the answer to the riddle before his 3-days are up. But Bitsey and Zack have their own problems, a lousy rental car and a mysterious cowboy in a pickup truck who keeps following them around.

Lotta says: Gale’s one pathetic dude and for Spacey the actor, it seems largely unconvincing. Bitsey’s turnaround from staunch disbeliever in his innocence to gung-ho supporter doesn’t quite ring true. As for Zack, he first comes off as an intern way too savvy to be an intern for anything then descends into the type of helpful twit you’d expect an intern to be. Laura Linney’s Constance is well played and is the most emotionally satisfying thing in the film. Unfortunately, the story seems convoluted and unlikely to the point of leaving me with a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The anti capital punishment message that the filmmakers worked so hard to present flattens considerably at the end making the whole experience rather pointless. That’s disturbing. It’s rated R for violent images, nudity, language and sexuality.

Reviewed 2/21/03