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"The Life of David Gale"

Directed by Alan Parker.
Written by Charles Randolph. 
Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet and Laura Linney.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  2/24/03 


My friend Amy was in town this past weekend and although we had a pretty full weekend including touristy stuff, burritos and Sunday-morning dancing (oh yeah), the mark of any good vacation to hang out with me is to go see a flick.  Amy vetoed “Old School” and opted for “The Life of David Gale” instead, because it had, in her words, “a good preview.”

The preview for this new Kevin Spacey film is good, but the release date of this film immediately makes it questionable--if this film had screened really well, it probably would have opened in December to make it eligible for the Oscar race; but, by releasing it in February, the folks behind the film are telling us that they are just blindly hoping that it would make them some money as alternate adult programming to compete against the teen-skewing “Old School” and the popcorny “Daredevil.”

I’ll give “The Life of David Gale” this much--it does hold your attention.  Spacey stars as the title character, a death penalty opponent that is a Harvard graduate and teacher in the state of Texas now on Death Row for murdering a friend & colleague (Laura Linney) that had ties to his work in the field of law.  We pick up the story four days from Gale’s execution, and as a last rite of passage, Gale has arranged for a big-name reporter (Kate Winslet) to conduct the first interviews granted since the murders eight years prior to clear his name...if not in the eyes of the law then in the eyes of his ex-wife and young son.  The film mostly takes place in the past as we watch Gale struggle through a bout with alcoholism and a possible rape charge to find his way in getting the governor of Texas to overturn the death penalty.

There is actually a little more to the plot that I am leaving out, but it is not important in the process of telling you that the film aspires to be nothing more than a preachy, symbolism-laden diatribe on the death penalty, something that I currently have no passion for and therefore could give a chicken-fried shit about in the course of a 135-minute film.  Spacey acts his ass off and is pretty good in this role, but the film just didn’t grab me by the throat enough to make the drama very arresting.  Like I said, it is quite watchable--by mixing in the Winslet character with the flashbacks of how Gale came to be in his position, the scenes are never boring; they just never build on one another towards a reasonably-predictable conclusion.

It doesn’t help that “The Life of David Gale” goes all “Vanilla Sky” on us near the end, by just telling us what really happened through some unbelievable problem-solving by Winslet’s reporter in the final 20 minutes and spoon-feeding of the essential facts near the end of the film’s running time.  The scenes with what looks like the one bad guy in the film are preposterous and comical, and the clichéd RedneckTalk by Gale’s lawyer (played with by-the-book Cajun spice by Leon Rippy) featured more “Well honey, I’ll be blank-blank by a bliggety-blank-blank if you’s right!” than I was willing to stomach.

Much like many of Spacey’s films over the last five years (“The Shipping News”, “Pay it Forward”, “K-PAX”), “The Life of David Gale” looks like it wants to aim high on paper, but plays down to the level of competition by the end.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09