The Life of David Gale

The Life of David Gale

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Oh what a tangled web we weave! Alan Parker’s turgid, bleeding-heart The Life of David Gale has timeliness on its side but its “dialogical exhaustion” (coincidentally, the title of the titular death-row inmate’s book on talking too much) is liable to shame good liberals straight into the Republican Party. David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is accused of raping and murdering his colleague Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney), head of the anti-death penalty group DeathWatch. The unfortunately named Bitsy Bloom (Kate Winslet), an investigative reporter for News Magazine (apparently Hearsay, Poop and Leak were already taken), gets three two-hour interview sessions with Professor Gale, who now sits in Death Row awaiting a Friday execution. Nancy Drew, er, Bitsy hears Gale’s side of the truth and sets out to find Constance’s murderer with the help of her magazine’s Hardy Boy intern Zach (Gabriel Mann). The film’s flashbacks take their cues from any given episode of “Oz”; a montage of cards whiz by on screen, flashing their one-word polemic (Ambition, Objectivity, Pain, Honor, et bullshit.). Not unlike Parker’s other liberal wank job, Mississippi Burning, David Gale has the look of the Deep South but is perpetually drunk on broad strokes. It’s Texas in the early ‘90s and the governor is referred to as a man “in-touch with his inner frat boy,” and as such comparisons to Dubya are too obvious to be truly savored. The good guys inexplicably reference their politics throughout perfectly routine conversations (“You work so hard at not being seen as a sex object, after a while you’re not seen at all”) and are easily identifiable by their innocent-sounding monikers. Not only is David Gale facile in comparison to Tim Robbins’s even-handed and humanistic Dead Man Walking but ultimately amounts to little more than a tirade thinly and deceptively disguised as bona fide thriller. Kevin Spacey seems to stray from the pussy prototype he created for himself with Pay it Forward and subsequently reinvented for K-PAX. He makes for a fabulous drunk but his performance is a total con job; the film’s cloying finale suggests that it’s not Kevin Spacey who gives the Oscar-winning performance. Major loose ends abound (did DeathWatch purposefully rig Bitsy’s rental car to malfunction so she could have her “Why God?!” moment?), but it’s the preposterous means by which David Gale martyrs its characters and aspires to Greek tragedy (see the weepy Italian opera featured at the end) that makes it a more difficult pill to swallow than a Dubya State of the Union Address.

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Distributor
Universal Pictures
Runtime
130 min
Rating
R
Year
2003
Director
Alan Parker
Screenwriter
Charles Randolph
Cast
Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven, Rhona Mitra, Leon Rippy, Jim Beaver