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The Life of David Gale

The Life of David Gale

Directed by Alan Parker. Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Rhona Mitra, Matt Craven, Leon Rippy. (2003, R, 131 min.)

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 28, 2003

One thing director Alan Parker has never been accused of is understatement. From such early films as Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express to midcareer projects like Pink Floyd: The Wall and Mississippi Burning as well as the more recent Evita and The Road to Wellville, Parker’s signature attribute has been his willingness to carry through with any idea or concept until he has eked from it every morsel of reality or believability. Thus, it comes as little surprise that his newest feature – the Austin, Texas-set cri de coeur regarding the inequities of the death penalty, – suffers from Parker’s same overindulgence in making points at the expense of making stories. If there were any doubt about this, just wait for this movie’s manipulative surprise ending before reaching any final conclusions. Kevin Spacey has also fallen prey to sentimental exaggeration in his recent films K-Pax and Pay It Forward, although it must be said that his performance as the character of David Gale is more measured and "human" than in his last few works. In fact, Spacey is exceptionally good and nuanced in David Gale, as are fellow leads Kate Winslet and Laura Linney. Their performances are always interesting to watch, even if their actions are not. The plot (by first-time screenwriter Charles Randolph) is unnecessarily convoluted and contrived, beginning with the film’s one essential hook: David Gale, a professor at the "University of Austin" and a prominent advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, finds himself framed for murder and awaiting execution on death row. Oh, the irony! Winslet plays the magazine writer Bitsey Bloom who is hand-selected by Gale to chronicle his life story. In three separate visits to Huntsville, she hears Gale recount the circumstances that led him to death row, and then has one day remaining before his execution to figure out the real killer of Constance Harroway (Linney), who was Gale’s colleague in abolition advocacy. With the clock counting down, she has only hours to solve this tangled whodunit. And then wouldn’t you know it? The rental car that began overheating during its opening scene, finally gives out at the crucial 11th hour. Why wouldn’t this expense-account writer have given Avis a ring and gotten a replacement? Only in the movies … Then she has to run, and run, and run – even longer than Forrest Gump – as the minutes tick by. For Austin-based filmgoers, David Gale has an extra level of interest. The film makes abundant use of our town’s eateries, bars, and other local color. In fact, Gale’s slide into alcoholism provides the opportunity for a Chamber of Commerce-friendly tour of the Sixth Street night scene. If this movie ultimately brings more business to Sam’s Bar-B-Que (a recurrent location) then it will have fulfilled its driving need to serve the public good. At least when Sam’s lambs go to the slaughter, they leave a good taste in your mouth.

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