LIFE OF DAVID GALE, THE
Professor David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is convicted of rape and murder and sits on death row in Texas. He offers an extensive and exclusive interview in the three days prior to his execution to journalist Bitsy Bloom (Kate Winslet), promising to reveal all. Gale and Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney) have been important players in the campaign against the death penalty for some time, and now, the divorced Gale is trying to rescue his once glorious reputation for the sake of his young son. But is that his only motive?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
He’s at it again. In his 1988 film Mississippi Burning, English filmmaker Alan Parker rubbed their noses into American’s notorious civil rights murders of 1964. This time, he’s rubbing their noses into the selective morality of the death penalty. In 1988 he used the facts of the case; this time it’s a fictional crime thriller but the impact is nearly as great. Nearly because facts are stranger and more powerful than fiction. But The Life of David Gale is welcome for its mainstream appeal, some of whom, even if only a few, are certain to be given pause for thought about the death penalty; legal murder or the sword of justice? My greatest reservation about the script (other than being slightly laboured and carrying too much incidental baggage) is that its stance against the death penalty is not articulated with the strongest argument possible: namely that if you accept that there is sometimes justification for the killing of a person, even if by the State, you cannot argue for the sanctity of life. That’s the selective morality of the death penalty. The film focuses on the dangers of the State killing an innocent person. That aside, the story makes for a dramatic and compelling film, and elicits terrific performances. We know Kevin Spacey will win our sympathy with a deeply felt performance as the condemned man, and Laura Linney is again outstanding; her Constance is a woman whose life is devoted to the cause. Kate Winslet is commanding as the catalyst, a journalist who is our point of view into the story and the recipient of the ‘exclusive interview’ with the condemned man. The structure of the film – flashbacks – is enhanced by Parker’s decision to give us an intriguing, mysterious opening sequence that comes back to tantalise us as the plot is developed. His craft is assured, and he adds stylistic flourishes to take us deeper into the mindset of his protagonists. Solid scripting (with one minor internal inconsistency) and clear characterisations make this (slightly overlong) drama a powerful statement. Parker has something to say, and by golly, we’ll listen.
Review by Louise Keller:
An absorbing and enigmatic thriller, The Life of David Gale couples a human story with the issue of capital punishment. Much of Alan Parker’s film relies on anticipation and the resulting tension. What a versatile director is Parker, whose works range from Mississippi Burning to Evita to The Commitments, and there’s no question that he earmarks all his projects by highly passionate subject matter. And the passion and commitment of David Gale to his cause is enough to penetrate through the prison walls, into the heart of journalist Bitsey Bloom and beyond the screen to us. It’s not until the end of the film that we realise the significance of the first scene in which a car overheats on an isolated road, prompting its female driver to start running as fast as her legs can carry her. The tension begins right there, and by the time we meet David Gale, locked behind the harsh security of death row fifteen minutes later, we can’t wait to find out who is this man and what are the circumstances that have brought him here. Through flashbacks, we enter the life of this erudite, urbane academic who makes mincemeat of his adversaries by using his brilliant mind and sharp tongue. Whether it is the politician who is trying to score in a television verbal debate on capital punishment or a lusty, busty student who is ready, willing and able to do ‘anything’ to get good grades, Gale is able to put them all in their place. It’s all about the details, the nuances, as we relive the key moments and get a sense of the man, his passions, his family values and dedication to his beliefs. Kevin Spacey inhabits Gale with tenacity and veracity: we get to know him at home, at work and at play. It’s a strong and intelligent performance, as we would expect from Spacey, who always manages to retain a beguiling air of mystery. He is not expecting Bitsey Bloom to save him; it’s his reputation that he wants her to salvage – for the sake of his little boy. Kate Winslet is mesmerising as Bitsey, while Laura Linney remains poignantly haunting as Constance, who devotes her life to the cause. The story is punctuated by question marks: the unorthodox pony-tailed lawyer, the opera-loving cowboy in the pickup truck… Then there is the matter of how suddenly the observer – the journalist - becomes part of the story. The tension mounts to a climactic pitch as the execution time draws near, and we still have no idea what is in store for us. This is a thriller that involves us to the very end, dragging us with its characters through the paces until its satisfying conclusion that doesn’t come until the very last frame. Satisfying and thought provoking, The Life of David Gale engages and fascinates; it’s an intelligent film for a thinking audience.
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LIFE OF DAVID GALE, THE (MA)
CAST: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven
PRODUCER: Nicolas Cage, Jeff Levine, Alan Parker
DIRECTOR: Alan Parker
SCRIPT: Charles Randolph
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Seresin
EDITOR: Gerry Hambling
MUSIC: Alex Parker, Jake Parker
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Geoffrey Kirkland
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 22, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
VIDEO RELEASE: October 8, 2003