The Life of David Gale

Bomb Rating: 

Spacey frequently resembles that guy in acting class who forces the rest of the class to turn away in embarrassment as he tries desperately to emote.

(SPOILERS, yo.)

There's nothing quite as annoying as a self-righteous liberal and director Alan ("Angela's Ashes") Parker couldn't have been more self-righteous in this anti-death penalty film if he included a musical number with the ghosts of electrocuted inmates singing and dancing to "Love is a Beautiful Thing." "The Life of David Gale" is like being sprayed with a fire hose for a couple of hours.

The very idea that David Gale (Kevin Spacey) would sacrifice himself for the cause is so ludicrous I thought I was going to start shooting welfare payments out my ass like a malfunctioning automated teller. These days, the average liberal's idea of self-sacrifice involves trying to flush the toilet one less time per day. Of course, the second the smell starts to get a little sour, it's off to the supermarket around the corner in the old H2 for some air freshener.

But David Gale is a man with a cause, so he's just going to allow himself to actually be put to death. He's on death row for the murder of his friend and fellow Deathwatch co-worker, Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney). Gale invites reporter Bitsy Bloom (Kate Winslet) for three interviews just before he's scheduled for his lethal injection. Naturally, Bitsy believes he's guilty before she goes into the jail and gradually starts to think Gale is innocent as he tells his story.

So let's try and cover just a small portion of the stupid shit that happens in this film. First of all, the outcomes for Gale and Hallaway are so contrived one wonders how they ever left a rally without setting themselves on fire. In other words, the plot screams "set-up." A former student accuses Gale of rape and his life is essentially ruined. His wife leaves him and he can't get a job. So what better candidate to sacrifice his life, right? He's practically happy to do it - he has nothing to live for anyway. Then we discover that Constance has leukemia, which means that volunteering to kill herself for the cause is just a natural outcome of her existence. Forget the bone marrow transplant -- Constance can kill herself and make a statement.

You're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about. Basically, it becomes obvious that Constance's death was a suicide, not a murder, and that Gale may have been involved. Parker's bumbling direction toward this ridiculous conclusion is nothing short of gleeful ineptitude. During transitions he flashes words across the screen like "guilty" and "innocent." I guess these are supposed to make us think. Then there's the slow-motion scene of Bitsy as she just misses stopping Gale's execution. She runs for like three miles with an important videotape after her rental car overheats (a problem Parker foreshadows about ten times). She falls to her knees and screams out, doing her best impression of Willem Dafoe from "Platoon." Personally, I think she was lamenting not enough time spent at the gym cause she runs like she has hams tied to the back of her legs. Then there are two or three scenes of birds flying away. Frankly, I got sick of this symbolism after John Woo did it a couple hundred times.

I have little doubt that Kevin Spacey and the rest of the cast signed up to make a movie about something they believed in. Unfortunately, the performances by Spacey, Winslet and Linney are the worst of their careers. Spacey frequently resembles that guy in acting class who forces the rest of the class to turn away in embarrassment as he tries desperately to emote. Linney's main function is to become increasingly pale. Winslet does little more than look horrified as Gale tells his story. Occasionally, she cries.

As with many political message films, when the filmmakers are more interested in getting their message across than in telling a compelling story, the effect is that sympathetic audience members start feeling like lobotomized lab rats. This might explain why I skipped out of the theater screaming "Kill them all!" at the top of my lungs.

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