Life Of David Gale

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Review byMatthew Turner10/03/2003

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 130 minutes

Well-acted but overlong and ultimately irritating drama – avoid the trailer if you’re even remotely interested in seeing it.

Director Alan Parker is no stranger to the thriller-with-a-message genre, having previously delivered the goods with Mississippi Burning. They are, however, notoriously difficult to get right, as are Death Row movies – for every Dead Man Walking, there’s a Green Mile or The Chamber or that really awful one with Sharon Stone that no-one remembers (Last Dance).

The Life of David Gale unfortunately suffers from trying to be both formulaic Death Row thriller and Serious Message Movie, as its plot becomes ever more ridiculous. It also isn’t helped by having a trailer that gives away every single plot point.

Anti-Death Penalty Activist On Murder Rap

What it does have in its favour, however, is a great cast. Kevin Spacey plays David Gale, an anti-death penalty activist arrested for murder and sentenced to death in Texas. In the last four days before he’s due to fry, he requests an interview with journalist Bitsy Bloom (Kate Winslet – yes, that’s right, this is the sort of film in which Kate Winslet plays someone called ‘Bitsy’) and begins to tell his story.

His story revolves around his best friend and fellow activist Constance Hallaway (played by Laura Linney), the woman he is supposed to have murdered.

Understandably, after a few hours with Gale, Bitsy thinks she may have stumbled onto something. But is she on the right track? And will she be in time to prevent his execution? (The trailer, incidentally, answers both these questions).

Good Performances…And Some Not So Good

The acting, as one might expect, is very good. Despite her comedy name, Kate Winslet does a passable American impression though you do wonder why they didn’t just cast someone else. At any rate, she’s a likeable character, if a little clichéd in the ‘feisty female journalist’ sense. Spacey is good too, particularly in his scenes with Linney, although you do wonder why he’s so subdued in the storytelling scenes.

The supporting cast, however, are excellent. Gabriel Mann, as Bitsy’s unwanted tagalong intern turns in an immensely likeable character performance and gets most of the best lines. Similarly, Laura Linney (one of Hollywood’s best unsung actresses) delivers a performance that’s probably much better than the movie deserves as Constance.

Having said that, there are two very poor supporting performances, one from Rhona Mitra as a student who sets Gale (her professor) up on a rape charge in a frankly laughable sex scene (“Bite me – bite me really hard, now hit me”) and one from Matt Craven as a Mysterious Opera-loving Cowboy who follows Bitsy around and is, perhaps, important. (Whenever the audience spots his van, the soundtrack plays opera music, even if Bitsy hasn’t noticed him).

The main problem with the film is that the characters behave so stupidly that you end up becoming frustrated with them. This is largely the fault of the script, which takes a sudden plunge into Ridiculous Thriller territory.

To sum up, The Life of David Gale is just about worth seeing for its performances but is ultimately both annoying and disappointing, as well as being overlong at a Death Row-like 130 minutes.

Film Trailer

Life Of David Gale
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Content updated: 08/12/2019 18:32

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