Suspenseful, engaging and captivating are the best qualities of the movie “The Life of David Gale.” “All I know is that by this time tomorrow I’ll be dead. I know when. I just don’t know why,” says David Gale to reporter Bitsy Bloom the night before his execution.
Initially, this movie resembled a familiar, worn-out scenario. A convicted murderer pleads his innocence to a sympathetic good listener and voila! the sympathetic good listener “magically” solves the crime that prior defense attorneys and Supreme Court justices couldn’t solve. At first glance “The Life of David Gale” might just be one of the Hollywood formula movies complete with a happy ending and a restored belief in human emotional interaction.
However, “The Life of David Gale” is far deeper, more emotionally enticing and actually speaks to a cause. Screenwriter Charles Randolph addresses strong moral convictions despite equally imposing social consequences.
In the role of Gale, Kevin Spacey portrays the character as a compelling, compassionate and intelligent man who is a staunch anti-death-penalty proponent. Shortly into the movie, Gale, a philosophy professor, is accused of raping an expelled student. From that point forward, his situation goes from bad to worse. In a matter of months, he finds himself convicted of the rape and murder of his best friend and colleague, Constance Harraway, played by Laura Linney.
After six years, having exhausted his appeals, with only three days until his execution, Gale finally agrees to an exclusive interview. He requests a reporter, Bitzy Bloom, played by Kate Winslet, (“Titanic,” “Quills”) to his jail cell to tell his side of the story.
Though the movie is told in a flashback format, it adds greatly to unfolding the story leading to Gale’s incarceration. Every detail of Gale’s life sucks you into the mystery of how such a strong opponent of the death penalty could be on death row.
Spacey portrays Gale with the complex dimension and unending depth that he is known for in such movies as “American Beauty,” “K-Pax” and “The Usual Suspects.” Through his superb skill at portraying his character, Spacey, with each smile and every raised eyebrow, draws the subtle complexities of this man known as David Gale.
Winslet’s character is referred to as “Mike Wallace with PMS,” which she portrays well. She comes off bitchy and hardened. She is constantly bossing around her co-worker/intern, Zach, played by Gabriel Mann (“Bourne Identity”). She does seem to have the “tough guy” attitude and demeanor, which never really is substantiated, but the only thing Winslet does the best in this movie is cry. There are at least three scenes where, in close up shots, Winslet begins to cry, cries or is crying. She does it so well, one wonders the number of hours she spent in front of a mirror practicing to get it “just right.”
The intern seemed like an afterthought character. His role was to provide a dialogue with Winslet so the audience could later understand why Winslet would cry again. That’s the best I could figure.
The remarkable chemistry between Linney and Spacey was palatable. Linney (“The Truman Show”) portrays Gale’s best friend and runs the local chapter of “Death Watch,” which is an anti-death penalty organization. Linney plays this character as a strong-minded, strong-willed and independent woman whose sole purpose in life is to “stop the insanity” of the pro-death penalty supporters in Texas.
At many different points, this movie could have taken turns toward the typical “Hollywood” story.
However, with Academy Award winner Spacey and Oscar nominees Winslet and Linney, the caliber of talent equally matches the caliber of the story of “The Life of David Gale.”