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The Life of David Gale
2003 - R - 130 Mins.
Director: Alan Parker
Producer: Alan Parker, Nicolas Cage, Jeff Levine
Written By: Charles Randolph
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven
Review by: David Trier
   
This type of movie is extremely difficult to review because its entire value is unseen until the revealing conclusion. I've been known to inadvertently give away endings (Verbal is Kaiser Soze) and I'm trying to avoid that, so bear with me...

Bitsey, a good name for a horse but a rather silly one for a journalist, (Kate Winslet) has apparently proven herself as someone who's true to her sources. As a result, she is chosen by David Gale (Kevin Spacey), a man soon to be executed, to do his first and last interview. The film is told primarily in flashback, in which Gale describes the circumstances under which he went from respected professor and anti-death penalty activist to serial rapist and convicted murderer of his activist colleague (Laura Linney). Bitsey and her dorky intern Zack (Gabriel Mann) must fill in the missing pieces and prove Gale's innocence (if that is indeed the truth) before it's literally too late and Texas follows through with what made our president famous (killing people).

There's little to complain about acting-wise here. Although it might be refreshing to see Kevin Spacey in a role that doesn't involve spontaneous sobbing, he can always be relied upon to bring emotional truth to a scene. He quickly draws sympathy for his character and efficiently pulls you in to his story. Winslet stumbles out of the gate a bit but generally does a good job, crying at all the appropriate cues and such. Gabriel Mann is actually pretty likeable as her sidekick, although the two have little chemistry. Laura Linney is always good and Matt Craven is always fun to watch (although his character doesn't say much).

At best, the film is merely clever. At worst, it's irritatingly convoluted. This is one of those films where everything ties together and everything is done for some very well-thought-out reason. Bitsey is stubbornly skeptical (and her intern partner isn't skeptical enough) but the audience never has to guess what she's ultimately going to do. Gale is unnecessarily cryptic while at the same time seems to give out way too much information to the very people who shouldn't know it. Director Alan Parker (who arguably hasn't made a decent flick since Mississippi Burning) throws in some pointless MTV flash cuts that make him look like a student filmmaker, but is at least able to draw moving performances from his cast.

The film's other life is that of political commentary as it relates to the death penalty. Whether you're against capital punishment or are an irrational schmuck (ooops, lost another handful of readers!), the complexities of activism portrayed in the film are worth thinking about. But in the filmmakers' attempt to get you on their side, they inadvertently make that side seem a little ridiculous. Whomever committed the crime that put the life of David Gale in the hands of the state, one has to wonder if they lose legitimacy by their means. Of course, if you haven't seen the film, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. In this, the picture deserves an above-average review, having the critic recommend the film be viewed without even being sure he liked it. You should see it once. I don't particularly feel the need to see it a second time.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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