The Life of David Gale (2003)


Ebert: Zero Stars Rolling Stone: TV Guide:

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

The reviews for The Life of David Gale have been terrible.  Ebert gave it zero stars.  Paul Clinton of CNN hated it and Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly disliked everything about it but gave it a C.  If a "message movie" directed by Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning) and starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet and Laura Linney is actually this bad, then it makes me even more interested to see it.  I was going to watch it anyway, but after reading the reviews I really had to find out for myself why all these people hated it so much.

The film tells the story of a reporter (Winslet), summoned by a convicted murderer/rapist (Spacey) to solve the mystery of the crime he maintains he is innocent of.  David Gale was a professor and an anti-death penalty activist.  After a moment of drunken passion with a former grad student, Gale is accused and soon after acquitted of rape.  Unfortunately his wife, who is already having an affair in Spain, uses this as the final excuse needed for a divorce.  The university is also unforgiving and Gale is fired and treated by everyone who knew him as a pariah.  This thirty seconds of sex has completely ruined his entire life.  His longtime friend and fellow activist (Linney) is the only person who will still have anything to do with him.  After she is raped and murdered, Gale is convicted and sentenced to death and it's up to the reporter to piece together what actually happened and save him before the execution.

The actors all do a great job.  Spacey was one of my favorite actors in the late 90's but his roles have been less interesting as of late.  I like Kate Winslet and Laura Linney and they both do an excellent job with their roles as well.  It's a well made film but it is somewhat flawed.

I'm not sure what movie the above mentioned reviewers saw, but The Life of David Gale is an obvious anti-death penalty movie.  They claim that the film is ambiguous (which it is not) and farfetched (which it kind of is.)  If there's one thing wrong with the film, it's that it's about 10 years too late.  DNA testing and the recent commuting of the death penalty in Illinois has already proved without a doubt that the death penalty is a flawed system of justice that eventually kills innocent people.  We don't really need a new movie to illustrate a point that is now so abundantly clear.   What we need is a movie that shows how life in prison is the best kind of punishment.  It's an even more horrible penalty, that at the same time allows for mistakes on the part of the justice system.  

The death penalty is a terrible and out dated system of punishment.  It is also racist.  I am against it.   However, I have never known anyone who was murdered so I cannot empathize with the family and victims of this crime.  I'm sure that if someone killed my wife I would be very pleased to see them die in turn,  but I would be even more happy to watch them rot in prison for the rest of their life.  I would definitely derive more vengeance knowing that they would spend the rest of their life suffering in prison.  I'm not sure why people don't see that.  

The Life of David Gale is not a terrible movie.  The twist ending is pretty obvious about half way through the film and will not be a surprise for anyone who is paying attention.  The message of the film is clear but it will ultimately not change anyone's opinion.