David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is an anti-death-penalty activist and professor in Texas (in Austin, Texas, actually, which happens to be where we’re headed this week for SXSW, but that’s just a weird coincidence). He’s quite politically active until he winds up on death row himself, accused and convicted of the murder of another activist (Laura Linney), and sentenced to capital punishment.
Journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is brought in to do one last interview with him before he’s put to death, but what he tells her isn’t a straight forward of guilt or innocence, but rather challenges her notions of justice and the legal system. But can she trust what she’s being told, or is David Gale just a smarter-than-average killer?
The thing about this movie…[this is me trying to decide whether I’m going to be polite about it]…is it’s not very good. I mean, it’s trying to be mysterious with a message. But if you can imagine that the message is a big salami, then imagine getting hit in the teeth with this salami, well, that’s The Life of David Gale.
Obviously it’s not for capital punishment. Or is that obvious? Or even true? Because I think unintentionally, somewhere in the convoluted mess, it might actually manage to do the complete opposite. The Life of David Gale certainly traps some very worthy actors in a mess they can’t act their way out of. Kate Winslet is pretty Winsletty, although she does a fair bit of running just to show how urgent, how life-and-deathy this whole thing is, but Spacey: man. That guy did not get the good end of the salami here. He’s particularly bad acting opposite the kid playing his young son. It’s just uncomfortable to watch.
The film, Alan Parker’s last, wants to be thought-provoking but leaves neither room nor nuance for any thought at all. Although it lures you in with the promise of high concept, it’s more manipulative and frankly, more mundane than you’ll think possible. It ends up feeling fairly generic despite a stellar cast with 13 Oscar nominations between them. In the end, I was just hoping they’d be put out of their misery, which is probably the last message an anti-death-penalty movie wants to send. Then again, nothing about The Life of David Gale suggests that anyone put even that much thought into it.