When anti-death-penalty activist David Gale is convicted and condemned to death for the murder of a colleague, reporter Bitsey Bloom sets out to learn the story behind Gale's crime. What she finds challenges her belief in Gale's guilt and, finally, in the justice system.Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It strains sometimes, but the plot and its twists will get you good. Great acting, too!
The Life of David Gale (2003)
Whether you are pro or anti death penalty, there's not getting past the sensational, brave, and maybe insane elements of this story. Based on fact about a death row inmate who had been famous as a death row protester, the core of the movie is how a young reporter (a convincing Kate Winslet) interviews the inmate (an equally convincing Kevin Spacey) in the days before his scheduled execution. We are gradually shown the backstory through their interviews, and another story builds as the reporter chases down new leads, including missing video evidence. Laura Linney plays an important third lead that starts to throw doubts into everyone's mind, including the audience's.
All of this sounds like a great movie should have come out of it: superb casting and acting, a great story with believable but astounding twists, and a nice tight framework, day by day, with methodical flashbacks. Instead the movie both tries too hard and fumbles some of the key moments. What is clearly dramatic is sometimes made over-dramatic (Winslet running and running and running, or words like "innocent" spinning across the screen between scenes). Other sensationalist add-ons make the movie cheap (seeing a chaingang neatly working along the road just as they drive by). And simple reactions aren't believable (they way characters respond to someone following them, or to other threats). This is important stuff for a movie trying to recreate the truth.
By my guess, the director is the key suspect, though he has a raft of successful films behind him, including the closest echo, Midnight Express (1978), which is about injustice and a prisoner who is extraordinary. But in all his films (that I've seen, which is quite a few, it turns out), there is a feeling of powerful story line carrying the day (Mississippi Burning, Birdy). Parker has also made a series of films tied to contemporary music, from Evita which is fair to The Commitments which is terrific fun, as well as The Wall, which might be his best film in all, though a difficult one. All of these films have a great setting, either musically or geographically.
Here we have only the dull backdrop of conservative Texas (if that's not redundant). And a blazing, heartwrenching story. Which is fair enough as a start. The Life of David Gale is a powerful morality tale, most of all, with some great acting, and many or most people watching will be glad they saw it. All those little flaws fade further and further as you get toward the end.
And then the end, the famous big final twist. That's memorable stuff. Wow.
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