The Life Of David Gale


Directed by: Alan Parker
Written by:Charles Randolph
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven
Released: May 22, 2003
Grade: B

David Gale (Spacey) is to be executed in four days.  Although there are many executions in the “happy” state of Texas, Gale’s has extra significance for two reasons.  Firstly, Gale helped found Deathwatch – an organisation that tried to abolish the death penalty and prove that innocent people are unjustly put to death.  The press see the irony in this event and are quick to splash it across media outlets.  Secondly, Gale hasn’t spoken to the media since his conviction six years ago but in his final days, has granted one exclusive interview to tell his side of the story.  Gale has specifically requested journalist Bitsey Bloom (Winslet) to write the article.  With just four days to the execution, Bloom meets Gale and the tale begins…

A popular lecturer at university, David Gale lived an enjoyable life.  That was until he slept with one of his students whilst drunk at a campus party.  Getting back at Gale for a past event, she claims that she was raped and whilst the charges were dropped, the smear stayed with Gale forever.  His wife left him, he never saw his son again, he was fired from his job and the people at Deathwatch wanted him sacked.  A man who was so prevalent in the public eye was now looked upon in a shameful light.

His best friend throughout was co-founder of Deathwatch, Constance Harraway (Linney).  She never lost faith in Gale and stood up for him at all times.  It was the murder of Constance for which Gale was convicted.  She was found strangled to death in her kitchen with Gale’s fingerprints on the body and his semen inside her.  With a dodgy lawyer, Gale never stood a chance.

Like all, Bitsey believes Gale to be guilty but she will soon become his biggest ally when a mysterious video tape surfaces in her hotel room.  The tape appears to show Constance committing suicide but she cannot be clearly identified and the evidence is too subjective to exonerate Gale.  Something is rotten in the state of Texas and Bitsey has less than 48 hours to put the pieces together or it will be too late.

As two of my favourite actresses, Kate Winslet gives an astutely emotional performance.  Kevin Spacey is more subdued but also in fine form.  With such big stars and a feature director in Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning, Evita), it’s strange that the film hasn’t received more publicity in Australia.  I guess it’s just been lost in the wash-up of X-Men 2 and The Matrix Reloaded.

The most widely discussed aspects of The Life Of David Gale are the interesting surprises that fill the finale.  I can’t say they are totally unexpected but in contrast to most critics, I found them very appropriate.  Thinking whilst driving home from the cinema, I could find few faults in these twists and they were well supported by evidence along the way.  The only possible sore point could be the presumption that Winslet doesn’t publish the details from the final piece of evidence she receives.  That’s all I’ll say on that matter.

The film has a strong narrative but I’m unsure what message the writer is trying to tell us.  In the light of the recent troubles the Governor-General has faced, I particularly liked how the film showed the ease at which someone can smear someone’s reputation even when no crime has been committed.  This though is only a small part of the overall picture and the filmmaker’s let themselves down in blurring the capital punishment issue.  An opportunity missed.