The Life Of David Gale

A thriller whose serious underpinnings are undermined by clunky plot mechanics and obtrusive stylistic flourishes, notably montages of significant words — ambition, self-sacrifice, objectivity, pain, honor, etc. — that precede its extended flashbacks. One-time academic wunderkind Dr. David Gale (Kevin Spacey), a convicted rapist-murderer, is about...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A thriller whose serious underpinnings are undermined by clunky plot mechanics and obtrusive stylistic flourishes, notably montages of significant words — ambition, self-sacrifice, objectivity, pain, honor, etc. — that precede its extended flashbacks. One-time academic wunderkind Dr. David Gale (Kevin Spacey), a convicted rapist-murderer, is about to be executed in Texas. Ironically, Gale and the victim, Constance Harraway (Laura Linney), were both committed advocates for Deathwatch, an anti-capital punishment group. Gale's lawyer (Leon Rippy) offers a deal to a "news" magazine: A six-hour interview with his client for a six-figure fee, with star reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet), whose integrity is legendary, as the writer. Bloom has reservations — she believes Gale is guilty and sees no point in handing him a forum. She also recognizes a career opportunity, even if she has to endure the company of intern Zack Stemmons (Gabriel Mann) to allay the magazine's worries about putting her in close proximity to a sex murderer. Over the course of three interviews, the last scheduled for the day before Gale's execution, the condemned man tells his side of the story, which at first appears to be a cautionary tale about an arrogant over-achiever's precipitous fall from grace, a downward spiral of alcoholism, marital and career failure and financial ruin culminating in violence. But Bloom gradually comes to believe Gale was framed. A graduate student's earlier accusation of rape looks like a set up. A videotape that appears mysteriously in her motel room suggests that someone else was present at Harraway's death. Gale's legal representation is called into question, and someone in a cowboy hat tails Bitsey and Zack in a blue pick-up truck, opera blaring incongruously from the sound system. But can Bitsey unearth evidence exonerating Gale before his appointment with destiny? Though former philosophy professor and first-time feature screenwriter Charles Randolph's script owes a strong and unacknowledged debt to Fritz Lang's BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956), its apparent intent — to stimulate discussion about the way capital punishment is practiced in America — is laudable. But the mystery story mechanics are painfully formulaic — of course the overheating rental car will figure prominently in the climactic race against the clock — and Bloom behaves so stupidly that she loses all credibility as a character. The film's greatest asset is Linney, whose prickly, finely calibrated performance as the doomed Harraway makes her loss resonate more powerfully than any of the point-counterpoint rhetoric.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: R
  • Review: A thriller whose serious underpinnings are undermined by clunky plot mechanics and obtrusive stylistic flourishes, notably montages of significant words — ambition, self-sacrifice, objectivity, pain, honor, etc. — that precede its extended flashb… (more)

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