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IN SHORT: An over earnest anti-death penalty themed flick, with a great twist in the final scene. [Rated R for violent images, nudity, language and sexuality. 135 minutes]
Dr. David Gale (Kevin Spacey) sits in Death Row in Huntsville Texas. In four days, authorities will put a needle into his arm and he will die for the rape and murder of Constance Harraway (Laura Linney), with whom he led a lobbying group fighting to ban Capital Punishment in the Lone Star State. Gee, an anti-death penalty murderer getting the needle. That's ironic, don'tcha think? Maybe it's just punishment. Either way it's the set up for The Life of David Gale which, if the script by Charles Randolph and direction by Alan Parker had played out with a less heavy hand, could have been a killer of a motion picture.
Regardless of your (or our) feelings about the Death Penalty, the point being made here is the presumption that the only way the Death Penalty will end is when a completely innocent defendant gets the chair. We know that point is driven with sledge hammer force because our screening audience broke into laughter at inappropriate points. We can't even slap the laughing group into some denigrating ethnic subspecies ('cuz that would be racist or sexist of whatever-ist fills in the other gaps in that diss) because inappropriate is just that.
This is one of the few movies that we've planted for that actually made us feel sorry for the type of viewer who must figure out the film's climax as soon as possible, for The Life of David Gale feeds it to you very early. The film serves up the last four days of a rapist murderer who is giving his one and only interview about the murder to NEWSMagazine reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet). Bloom's intern, Zack Stevens (Gabriel Mann), gets to hang around and do last minute footwork and investigation for the story.
As to the "facts" of this fictional case: There is no question that Gale and his victim had sex, nor that his thumbprint was found on the plastic bag duct-tape'd around her head. The clincher that sends the man to the death chamber is an old rape accusation by one of the Professor's students (Rhona Mitra). The charges were dropped but the stigma followed the man and "prior behavior" implicates a pattern and thus the chair. Gale's personal life brings succor. His best friend is a bottle of Scotch. His wife Sharon (Elizabeth Gast) and son Jamie along, split to Spain for a new life -- Sharon finds a new love and the kidlet hangs on tight to a fuzzy doll called Cloud-Dog.
Yes, a stuffed animal plays an important part to this film which, if you want to sit and analyze afterwards, pushes conspiracy theory to ultimate limits. Ultimate is the proper term, too. Our audience walked out of the screening muttering "Ridiculous."
While we can root for a last minute call from the Governor (in Texas? Yeah, right) Gale's less than third rate, pony-tailed lawyer Braxton Belyeu (Leon Rippy) fights the good fight, which is why Gale has called in the big guns -- the liberal media press. Here's the catch: Ms. Bloom walks into Death Row absolutely convinced that Gale is guilty and flat out hostile to his polite demeanor. She will meet with him for two hours a day, three days running. By the end of those six hours will she be a driven defender of the innocent, seeking out that last minute save? Will Bitsey save the day or will she be left a crumbling wreck, having failed to save a truly innocent man? And what of the mysterious cowboy (Matt Craven) who has been shadowing every movement Bitsey and Zack make?
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Life of David Gale, he would have paid . . .
We suspect that what you see in the very last scene will determine your overall reaction to the film.
And what the heck kind of name is Bitsey?
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