The Life of David Gale
Call me na´ve, call me gullible, call me a bleeding-heart liberal, call me a - well, call me a film critic. I say frankly that I was taken by this very bizarre movie and suspended much of my normal disbelief at what turns out to be an outrageous plot, though not until the last thirty seconds of the film, when everything the movie has spent two hours telling us is neatly reversed and we are left holding the bag.
"The Life of David Gale" is the story of a man - Kevin Spacey - on death row in Texas, home of the whopper of an execution machine. He is a leader of the opposition to the death penalty, and he has been convicted of the rape and murder of his co-leader, Constance Harroway (Laura Linney). He is four days away from execution, and he grants three final, exclusive interviews to a reporter from a news magazine (called 'News,' of all inventive things), for a price of $500,000. Young Bitsey Bloom ("Call me Bitsey"), just out of jail for refusing to reveal her sources in another story, is the chosen one, played by the lightly talented Kate Winslet in intense mode. She brings along her intern, played by cute boy toy Gabriel Mann. The two choose to rent a car that keeps mysteriously overheating, they stay near the prison in what appears to be the Bates Motel, and they are shadowed by a man in an old pickup wearing a cowboy hat. This film has more red herrings than the Fulton Fish Market.
In the course of the interviews we learn that David was once a respected philosophy professor, married with a young son, then falsely accused of rape by a devious coed, then divorced by his wife who went to live with the boy in Spain, then an alcoholic, and now - tah-dahh, a murderer. But is he? Kevin Spacey? Are you kidding? Well, maybe, just maybe, Bitsey can save him if only she can find the videotape that might, just might, prove his innocence. That's the film, told in flashback from the opening moment when Bitsey runs to the execution site with videotape in hand.
Once again Spacey finds a way to make the unbelievable believable (think "The Usual Suspects"). He plays it absolutely straight and we are very much with Bitsey as she learns, little by little, the facts of the case. Gale's attorney is mysteriously vague; did he throw the case? Was he inept? The tension mounts. Only the minimally talented Winslet, with her interminable poses that she uses in place of creating a character, keeps pulling us back from giving ourselves to the story.
As it happens, director Alan Parker is a favorite of mine, with some extraordinary features to his credit, ranging from "The Commitments" to "Midnight Express" and "Shoot the Moon." He knows how to stage a scene for suspense and emotion, and can even give a documentary gloss to his films. Here his job is to convince us of the truth of everything we see and hear, but then to reverse direction - actually twice - and fool us with the facts. It's as though Parker himself was taken in by the script; there really is no other explanation. When a film that has deliberately led you down the garden path turns on you and doubles back for no other reason than to contrive an ending to a story, you must feel cheated. I do.