'Gale' blows weak
The Life of David Gale
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on March 7, 2003 | PRINT

Allen Parker's 'The Life of David Gale' sets out to be a suspense thriller that delivers a compelling social message. It fails miserably on both counts. The movie opens with reporter Bitsy Bloom (Kate Winslet) running with a critical piece of evidence that could save the life of David Gale (Kevin Spacey). At the most improbable of moments her rental car breaks down. With only minutes to spare Bloom runs over the hill and through dale and even gallops through a cemetery.

Bloom is a cynical and jaded journalist summoned to interview David Gale (Kevin Spacey) three days before his execution. She has a reputation for being a good investigative reporter and for protecting her sources -- she even went to jail to protect the identity of a child pornographer. This makes her the ideal candidate to tell Gale's story and to discover the "truth" behind his imprisonment. The mission to discover the truth starts the "thriller" part of the movie in motion.

And just in case the audience fails to realize that this is a thriller, writer Charles Randolph employs every cliché of the genre: the car that breaks down at the most crucial moment, a chase foiled by a train, and the inevitable race against the clock. There's even the shadowy figure watching Bloom's every move.

Gale's story is told through flashback sequences. He is a bright, erudite death-penalty abolitionist but is a flawed man and his vices lead to his downfall but he remains a sympathetic character. Constance Harraway (Laura Linney) is his colleague at Deathwatch, a death penalty abolitionist group. She is the one person who can keep his demons at bay. Both Spacey and Linney gave strong performances. The speeches they are called to give are often contrived but effective. There is also some excellent dialogue between the two. Their conversations are the best and most natural moments of the film.

This had the potential to be a really great film if Parker had focused on the human moments shared by Gale and Harraway. But like a wrong turn down a country road it gets way off course. The points of view are too extreme. The right comes across as eye-for-an-eye, Bible-thumping cretins. The Left comes across as fanatical, extremist flakes. Where is the centrist point of view? The movie is also wholly devoid of subtlety. A movie about the death penalty set in Texas? Come on. There's even a Governor 'Dubya' character who's "in touch with his inner frat boy."

The most egregious part of the movie, however, is the horribly contrived plot twist that completely dissolves the film's message. I won't spoil it because everyone deserves the opportunity to be infuriated on their own. Suffice it to say Parker and Randolph broke the covenant that movie-makers have with the audience. They took the low road and opted for the cheapest thrills devoid of any payoff for the audience.

Under Parker's direction "The Life of David Gale" is too complicated, contrived, and melodramatic for the cinema. It's more suitable as an opera or a Greek tragedy.

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