The Life of David Gale (15)
This is a very peculiar and particular tale of obsession in the vein as Dead Man Walking, in which liberal anti capital punishment leanings eventually segue into an unwieldy whodunit.
Kevin Spacey is the man in prison – a vociferous protester against the death sentence who winds up on death row when he is convicted of raping and killing his hard-working, frumpy campaign partner (Laura Linney). As the day of his execution nears, David Gale calls in a pushy and ambitious reporter, Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet), to listen to his tale of woe and prove his innocence.
It turns out that Gale, an egotistical academic with a booze problem, had previously landed himself in deep water following a rough one-night stand with a beautiful but hacked-off student (sex kitten Rhona Mitra) who later cried rape. So when his friend and colleague is found naked, tied up and dead in her kitchen with a polythene bag tied around her head, Gale is considered prime suspect. The fact that his sperm is found in her vagina seems to nail him as rapist and drunken killer.
Bitsey’s job is to remain objective, listen to this seductive monster’s story and separate fact from lie in an effort to uncover the truth. Is Gale a Jekyll and Hyde killer, or is he the victim of a shameful frame-up in a state where the death penalty is a handy method of relieving the burden on the taxpayer?
An amalgam of True Crime, Under Suspicion and A Time to Kill, The Life of David Gale begins with Winslet racing from a broken-down car, a video tape clutched in her hand.
From a promising beginning it begins to unravel, though the first 60 minutes are not without drama and intrigue. The picture then takes a different route as someone starts to play murder games in the manner of any number of Sherlockian thrillers where the wrongdoer is always unmasked at the dramatic denouement.
This movie’s problem is that it boasts a ludicrous and unbelievable twist in the final reel that shatters the construction of the plot and loses the attention of the audience. And it’s very, very silly.
Spacey is as compelling as ever as in a role that offers more than just one dimension, though Winslet’s journey is far from a profound one. She’s a spunky gal, but Bitsey is no great shakes in terms of character, and she finishes the film every bit as colourless as she was when she entered it.
In the hands of Alan Parker The Life of David Gale becomes more than just another hackneyed odyssey through the consequences of crime and the possibilities of guilt and innocence. Still, Parker cannot prevent it from sliding into parody as the plot becomes more outlandish and accepted figures metamorphose into caricature in Charles Randolph’s meandering screenplay.
For serious crime buffs only, and I venture you’ll spot the ending coming well before the film lays down its clues.
Star rating: **