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:: The Life of David Gale

The issue of capital punishment is explored in The Life of David Gale. Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet and Laura Linney, directed by Alan Parker.

Exploring the life of David Gale (Spacey), a philosophy university lecturer and ambassador for Death Watch (an anti-death penalty organization) seems more complicated and complex than the outcome provides. Three days prior to his execution for the rape and murder of a colleague, Gale requests an exclusive interview with reporter Bitsy Bloom (Winslet) in order to set the record straight about his life and the events leading up to the execution. Once she arrives in town with journalist intern sidekick in place we are exported to Gale’s past as every detail about his life is retold, from when he has a momentary slip of better judgement and sleeps with a student, until his present turmoil. In the meantime Bitsy is on her own investigation trail to prove Gale’s innocence, inevitably turning into a “race against the clock” providing us with a conclusion and key evidence that the beginning already reveals.

The flashbacks provide us with Gale’s own telling of his situation as we move with the story back and forth as it is told. With some perplexing direction in between, such as the odd and seemingly out-of-place spiralling camera angles and word montages, having no clear and direct relevance to the story being told. There are further problems with this method as we are given the ending at its commencement leaving the conclusion with no real surprise at all and lacking the basic element of suspense that it attempts to achieve. The flashbacks tend to provide too much exposition, and may have been trimmed down a good half hour or so with particular characters and events not directly relating to the principal story. Bitsy’s intern carries no weight and is of no relevance to the plot as she conducts all the interviews and makes all the discoveries on her own and Dusty, the elusive cowboy, is also a lost story thread playing his part well, as the “mysterious” character. The film is structured in such as straight forward, matter-of-factly manner that it detracts from the story making it too predictable at crucial moments.

The main issue with this film is the subject matter with a few scenes in particular that some may find difficult to watch. It seems as if this film and Gale himself, goes to extreme lengths to make its point, and when its point is made it is way too clear to argue. Its agenda is set pretty apparent at the beginning.

The performances however are a pleasure to watch, Spacey is great as Gale and as always can be relied upon to display a strong character with a diverse and convincing range. Laura Linney as Gale’s Death Watch cohort is also just as good, and does her best attempt to make sense of a sometimes-nonsensical script. Kate Winslet is satisfactory in her portrayal of Bitsy Bloom, which again argues the position that the problems are not with the actors but the characterisations and script, as Winslet’s reporter is pushed to such extraordinary lengths to prove an obvious point.

A brave and ambitious attempt at a complex and divisive subject that hasn’t been given the complexity it deserves and is about equal parts good as it is not so good.

Screening on general release.