Review: The Life of David Gale
THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE is a drama set for release in December of 2002, starring Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, Kate Winslet and director Alan Parker at the helm. Sniff, sniff...what's that I smell? Is that the smell of Oscar? Not sure, but here's what Movie Freak had to say about it:
has had his share of high and low profile films. As big as
production as Evita was, the film was ultimately a musical and did not do much
for me. Parker's film adaptation of Angela's Ashes was a great film and it
managed to have the feel of an epic even though it was simply focusing on a
poor young boy growing up in a poor neighborhood. The Life of David Gale could
be considered high profile because of its controversial subject matter, but
upon closer inspection it is simply one of the many stories involving with the
death penalty. This film presents a scenario and then poses the question, "is
the death penalty an injustice to some people, if not to humanity"?
Kevin Spacey plays David Gale who is both a Texas university professor and well-known activist opposing the death penalty. Gale and his close friend Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney) started Death Watch, an activist group demonstrating to revert the act of executing people in the state of Texas where it is still practiced. Apart from making public appearances on talk shows and in front of the Texas court house (I'm guessing) to protest, Gale now faces an arrest
charge for allegedly raping Berlin (Rhona Mitra), a former and failing student
from Gale's class at the university. The charge hurts Gale's personal life as
much as it hurts his public profile, which plunges him back into alcoholism
that he had once overcome.
The Life of David Gale is told in flashbacks from Gale's point of view as he
sits on death row. Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is a journalist for News Inc.
and with the unwanted help, at first, from Zack the intern (Gabriel Mann),
drives to Texas to conduct an exclusive interview with David Gale before the
execution. She doesn't know whether to believe in Gale's innocence, as he
promises, but she is determined to find out the truth. From this point on, the
story transitions back and forth between Gale's recollection of the events
before the death row conviction and Bitsey's harrowing search to find out
whether Gale was framed or is guilty.
The biggest problem, and I will address a few minor ones later, is the film's
split focus and changing point of view. At one point we're watching Gale's
story and at another we're watching Bitsey's story. This lack of true focus
hurts the film a little. Telling a story through flashbacks can be tricky
because it is usually interrupted by the active story (in this case it is
Bitsey's). In some cases I wonder if Gale's flashbacks seem a little too
subjective, considering he's had to be in every scene that takes place. Case in
point, there are two scenes that troubled me, one involving Constance crying
out after a death row inmate is executed (a young woman) and the other taking
place at a party where we are subjected to many uninteresting party sequences
that are intercut with Gale's alleged rape. The actual scene transitions
between the two stories, which much later in the film intertwine, are a bit
unusual in its execution (no pun intended). Usually, when you have two stories
(as in this film), one story elevates above the other, and when that happens,
the film loses its balance. For some reason, and I think it is the script, the
two stories are equally interesting, despite film's split focus and changing
point of view.
There is no
argument towards the strength of acting this film presents
audience. Spacey, Linney, Winslet, and Mann all give their best in their
respective performances. The story here is a work of fiction, but it is not at
all far-fetched in the reality it suggests. Charles Randolph's script is
carefully crafted, but creates several obstacles (such as the alcoholism, among
others) for some of the characters to make the overall product more dramatic.
Alan Parker does a very fine job directing this film, which could've ended up
as a three-hour Lifetime, but didn't. Parker manages to elevate the story's
potential and impact with the help of his composer and editor.
The film does not attack the death penalty, but makes some serious statements
about it. The film takes the point of view of the opposition and therefore,
more or less, claims it is all that is evil. Ultimately, The Life of David Gale
tells one story where the death penalty might just actually be a true
injustice. The outcome and truth is a powerful blow against what the state of
Texas does to murderers and criminals, but on the other hand, the film tries
too hard to win over the audience's sympathy towards (potentially innocent or
even guilty) death row inmates. As I said before, the film presents a scenario
and then poses the question whether the death penalty is an injustice or not. I
don't think we should judge the death penalty for what it is after seeing this
film, but we sure can question it. Overall, The Life of David Gale is a good
film and I recommend it, but it isn't Alan Parker's most memorable.