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Overall Rating
2.93

Awesome: 20%
Worth A Look: 23.16%
Average: 7.37%
Pretty Bad28.42%
Total Crap: 21.05%

6 reviews, 59 user ratings


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Life of David Gale, The
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by Collin Souter

"It does for Peace on Earth what 'Battlefield Earth' did for Scientology"
1 stars

“You have got to be kidding me. Seriously, this can’t be right. I refuse to believe it. I mean, really, what is the point?” This sentiment echoed throughout most of the running time of Alan Parker’s “The Life of David Gale.” In fact, it pains me just to write the previous sentence. How could this be an Alan Parker movie? How could the director of such brilliant, diverse fare such as “The Commitments,” “Pink Floyd: The Wall” and “Mississippi Burning” be responsible for such an incomprehensible mess as this? And how did Kevin Spacy, Kate Winslet and Laura Linney get involved? How can four—FOUR!—seemingly intelligent people read this screenplay and agree that it must be made for all the world to see?

I’m guessing they felt that because it deals with the death penalty and all its flaws as a system, it must be noble. How bad is this calculation in judgment? Let me put it this way: “Battlefield Earth” is a better commercial for Scientology than this is for anti-death penalty activists. Short of showing a member of Amnesty International going deer hunting after getting an abortion, I can’t think of a worse way to try and recruit an activist than by showing them this film. For all its noble efforts, I have to say that I can’t remember that last time a movie failed so badly at what it wanted to be before “The Life of David Gale.”

(SPOILER’S WARNING)
The title suggests a true story, but nothing could be more fictitious, and if I told you the outcome—the last half-hour—you still wouldn’t believe that anybody would sit down and write this thing with a straight face. David Gale (Kevin Spacey) lives in Texas and has been a philosophy professor and death penalty protester for many years now. He has a loving wife and kid and a charisma that attracts co-eds who need to put forth a little extra effort in order to graduate. One girl manages to seduce him into having rough sex with her, an act which eventually leads to him being convicted of rape and having his life ruined as a result.

We find this out in a series of flashbacks. Gale tells his story to a balls-to-the-wall female reporter named (are you ready for this?) Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet), who has been given the assignment to interview Gale for his three remaining days on death row before his scheduled execution. Gale wants to convince her he is innocent, but I have to back up here. How did an anti-death penalty activist wind up on death row? Well, it has nothing to do with the co-ed who framed him for rape. Gale has a female best friend, a hard-core activist named Constance Harraway (Laura Linney). They have a close relationship and she often helps him out during his rough times as a convicted criminal/alcoholic/divorcee. She gets murdered somehow and we’re meant to try and figure out by whom and what for.

All sorts of clues get dropped in on us. Gale has a lawyer whom we don’t trust any more than we do Charles Randolph, who write this mess. We also get a quiet shady character who follows Bitsey and her intern, Zack (Gabriel Mann), around in a pick-up truck. This man, Dusty (Matt Craven), distinguishes himself from all other Texans in pick-up trucks named Dusty by wearing a cowboy hat. He also has a reputation for being a little too hard-core of an activist. He likes to make his views known to everybody. He lives for activism, which I guess is why he lives alone in a shotgun shack in the backwoods watching taped re-runs of The Tonight Show and Hee-Haw. Again, I’m not making any of this up.
(SPOILER’S END)

Okay, so why the low rating? Well, it has a lot to do with how the story resolves itself and because I have a standard that I like to uphold of never giving the ending away to a murder mystery (no matter how bad), I have to sort of dance around it. I believe I made my point clear about it earlier in the review, but I feel I must stress that this movie makes anti-death penalty activists out to be nothing but complete, utter wackos. Granted, some crooked characters do exist out there in the world, but I also know for a fact that abolitionists would never want to have anything to do with the people depicted in this film. I also hate the idea that this movie has us rooting for these people throughout most of its running time. If anything, this movie might cause some to jump to the other side of the fence on the issue.

Of course, that would only happen if people actually believed everything they see in the movie and surely nobody is that stupid. But then there’s that cast. Spacey’s track record as of late has been a slow downward spiral (or maybe you didn’t see “Pay It Forward,” “K-PAX,” or “The Shipping News.”) and this will no doubt be the crash landing. He gives an unintentionally hilarious performance, but one that is hard to watch simply because you know he can do better. Tim Robbins gave a much more fluent, nuanced and restrained portrait of a drunk in the last half-hour of “The Hudsucker Proxy” than Spacey does as a wandering lunatic in this movie’s second act.

Winslet is equally, shockingly bad, but she hasn’t exactly been given great material in the first place. Her character transformation from thinking Gale is guilty to thinking of him as wrongly accused has no force behind it, no conviction. The screenplay simply forces everything to happen as though it never went beyond the first draft. Parker’s ham-fisted direction is no help, either. As I said before, I have always been a Parker fan, but his efforts here have never been more mis-guided. His most annoying trait here comes in the form of The Most Awkward Flashback Transition in the History of Film, with Spacey and Winslet sitting in the jail. Suddenly, the camera takes off and spirals upside down while we see flashes of words such as “MURDER!” “RAPE!” “INNOCENT!” “ALMOST!”

I have met serious anti-death penalty activists, mainly through a local chapter of Amnesty International here in Palatine, Illinois. Many of them are dedicated, hard working people who never tire of campaigning for peace. I’m not sure their ceaseless efforts to convince the former governor George Ryan to overturn the death penalty had much impact on his decision to actually do it. I don’t doubt that his motives were simply political as a way of somehow cleaning up his disgraceful record. I don’t know. But I do know that these activists deserve much more for their efforts than to be depicted as martyrs, pawns and horrible decision makers.

What “The Life of David Gale” does is shameless and despicable. Aside from insulting the audience with its convoluted and incompetent storyline, it also has an ugly cynicism about it. I would have no problem with a movie about the protests that took place here in Chicago last November and showing how directionless, indecipherable and unfocused it turned out to be, but to make a movie that can be described the same way about a subject as vast and frustrating as the death penalty, a subject worthy of serious protest and debate…well, I just don’t see the point.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7051&reviewer=233
originally posted: 02/23/03 04:10:47
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User Comments

3/25/10 Dane Youssef Something about the whole product feel episodic and unfinished. Final twist ruins the movie 2 stars
7/11/07 fools♫gold Eh, percentages and "whatever" rates are all conspicuous lies. Oops!!! 5 stars
2/19/06 Chris Smith Those states w/o the death penalty had a lower murder rate BEFORE they stopped it! Oops!!! 2 stars
2/19/06 Chris Bordeman All they even prove is it's easy to frame yourself if you really want to. Whooptey doo!! 2 stars
10/27/05 LINDA GARZA IT WAS AN AWESOME MOVIE WRITER HAS ALOT OF TALENT 5 stars
5/23/05 theo stevens histionic but excellent portrayal of anti-death penalty fanatics 3 stars
4/02/05 Cynthia Willingham Easy to figure out, not believable at all 3 stars
3/24/05 Helen Bradley Great acting by Spacey and Winslet great script a thriller suprise ending 5 stars
12/04/04 Sam Worth while watching. give lots of facts and how a girl tries hard to saves david's life. 4 stars
10/28/04 Daveman This film is all over the place, needlessly didactic and hilariously overblown. 1 stars
10/11/04 Cinnamon There were parts of the movie that seemed boring, but the story had a good twist at the end 4 stars
7/16/04 nsb i loved this movie. thought it was very good. 5 stars
3/21/04 Pat ending was strange 3 stars
3/10/04 bsho76 Very unique film, keeps you guessing... 4 stars
2/12/04 Thomas Weiler One of my favorites 5 stars
12/16/03 marvin sucks 2 stars
11/03/03 Michele Darcis worthwhile seeing, keeps you guessing 4 stars
10/17/03 Lee Aclaimed Bad on so many levels; and why the numerous scenes of cars driving down the road? 1 stars
9/30/03 keshia king this movie is cool, and there are a lot of things that you don't think will happen but do.. 5 stars
9/27/03 Kimberly Jacobs I totally disagree with this EFC review. ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES I HAVE SEEN LATELY! 5 stars
9/21/03 Flick Chick anything with kevin spacey is good. 4 stars
9/21/03 Darryl Spacey is great, as always. And the plot twist will blow you away! 5 stars
9/19/03 Jinnvisible Good plot , alas actors, straining to poo the emotion ,Steven Spielturd?emotional overdrive 4 stars
9/14/03 Kyle I thought it was an above-average suspense movie. I didn't get bored at all. 4 stars
8/29/03 Ben J. Doko It might help each States to review their capital punishment law. 4 stars
8/26/03 mark thomas it SUCKS! 1 stars
8/25/03 JUN Story to be too thin and predictable 2 stars
8/18/03 Alberto Well i thought the movie was great. 5 stars
8/14/03 Jeannie Karlsen This movie left me in tears. Excellent in every way. 5 stars
8/05/03 Piz Well-played thriller that did seem far-fetched. Had potential to be a tense nailbiter 4 stars
8/02/03 Matt Helm The trailer convinced me not to see it ... ever. So does this count? 1 stars
8/01/03 Doc Shock Predictable. 2 stars
7/24/03 Kecia good movie,but what happened to him was wrong. 4 stars
6/06/03 Brendan L I guessed the ending after fifteen minutes, got to love that!! 3 stars
5/20/03 Shadaan Felfeli Good performances.At times the story seems unnecessarily convoluted. Definately worthwhile. 4 stars
5/20/03 your worse goddamn nightmare The plot was pretty good. To I wish the flick had some competant cinematographer... ... ... 4 stars
4/17/03 Hussain Dada Amazing movie, but appears more fictitious than a true life story. 4 stars
4/10/03 Natalie Stonecipher (aka anti-anti-missile missile missile) Killing to show that killing to show that killing is wrong is wrong is wrong! 1 stars
4/09/03 Tiffany Thunderhurst Looks awesome until too many twists involute it into farcedom. 3 stars
3/11/03 Bentley Clark Let go of the politics and enjoy the mystery!! 4 stars
3/11/03 Krista Ann Amazing movie. Must see! 5 stars
3/10/03 andrew j saw it with three adults could not follow the movie slow wait for tv showing 2 stars
3/04/03 Nancy N. insults the intelligence (and the ethics) of the anti-death penalty group 2 stars
3/02/03 Jack Sommersby Spacey is outstanding; the film is simply ludicrous. 2 stars
3/01/03 WestcoastPunk Spacey is a god 5 stars
2/28/03 stud A GREAT FILM 5 stars
2/27/03 larry diek though it was great! fuck everyone else 5 stars
2/26/03 James S. Fritz OK movie but flawed by illogical plot twists and holes 3 stars
2/26/03 Eberto E. Soto Jr A Great Film about our judicial system and the extent that people would do to be heard. 5 stars
2/26/03 Poetchuck Good whodunit 5 stars
2/25/03 icemltr You misdjudged it; great story of the debate over death penalty, great acting and suspense 5 stars
2/25/03 Mister Bigglesworth Rush Limbaugh bet Michael Moore couldn't direct comedy! Leftist, rightist, all the samist! 1 stars
2/25/03 Stephanie I felt depressed and unhappy after seeing this movie. I wondered why they even made it. 1 stars
2/24/03 Cele Cinema Whether or not you agree with the politics, a nail biter. 4 stars
2/23/03 Ryan FB Predictable, banal, trite, hackneyed, and condescending. One of the worst films ever. 1 stars
2/23/03 brentyoung some people misunderstand the movie's point & call it "confusing." it's not;it'sbrilliant. 5 stars
2/22/03 bob leather jacket I disagree with the message from the movie, Criminals need to be put to death 3 stars
2/21/03 oki Armando very inteligent story 5 stars
2/20/03 Ingo Convetional story, clever outlined. Spacey in a deadlock as an actor? 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Feb-2003 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  22-May-2003


Directed by
  Alan Parker

Written by
  Charles Randolph

Cast
  Kevin Spacey
  Kate Winslet
  Laura Linney
  Gabriel Mann
  Matt Craven
  Rhona Mitra



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