We are not into the third month but I have the feeling we have seen the most preposterous film of the year. The Life Of David Gale is so unbelievable, so one-dimensional in championing the abolition of the death penalty that it may embarrass even the most articulate opponents of capital punishment.
If you want to see a more realistic and far more honest statement against the death penalty, see the off-Broadway hit Exonerated and check if there is a single dry eye in the theatre.
The well-advertised Gale has been directed by Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning) with such misplaced enthusiasm that it ends up looking ridiculous. The story grapples with half a dozen emotional issues, but is seldom engaging. There is no genuine tension to qualify it as first rate drama.
Despite the artistes, especially the wrongly accused philosophy professor David Gale (Kevin Spacey [ Images ]) and journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet [ Images ]) working hard, the movie cannot ignite its emotions.
Laura Linney cannot save the muddled movie either. As the woman fighting to save others' lives while her own days are numbered, she offers a luminous performance, perhaps the only saving grace in this film based on Charles Randolph's screenplay. It is a heartbreaking performance.
Watch her discussing her sex life with Gale just before she dies and check your pulse. It is one of the few heart-wrenching scenes in the film. Her death scene is one of the most disturbing and violent scenes I have watched recently.
Films with a passionate point of view don't have to be bad. Remember Platoon? Or The China Syndrome. Or Z, one of the best political thrillers ever made. And let us not forget Dead Man Walking, the stimulating and heartfelt film which, while condemning the death penalty, refused to give us a one-dimensional view.
Parker's movies, including Midnight Express set in a brutal Turkish prison, have proved that films with strong viewpoints can hold the attention, raise a few controversies, and make decent money.
But this film is a bomb.
It revolves around Gale, a respected Texas professor and relentless crusader against capital punishment, who invites trouble when he lets a student (Rhona Mitra, the British actress whose father is an Indian plastic surgeon) seduce him. He is accused of raping her. The charges are dropped, but his troubles increase. He loses his job and soon, he finds himself on Death Row. He is found guilty of raping and killing fellow activist Constance Harraway (Linney).
With just three days left for his execution, he agrees to give an exclusive interview to the ambitious Bloom who has long been chasing the story.
As the story unfolds in flashback, we see Bloom (and the hapless male intern accompanying her) being followed by a mysterious man. The flashbacks tell us about Gale's fall at university, his alcoholism and his wife seeking a divorce. From time to time, we see Bloom in prison; her guarded regard for Gale having melted in no time, she feels responsible for staying the execution.
The movie becomes a clock-race thriller as Bloom struggles to present the evidence that could stay the execution. But it never achieves the tension of Clint Eastwood's [ Images ] anti-death penalty movie, True Crime. That 1999 film based on Andrew Klavan's novel revolved around an over-the-hill journalist who, as a redemptive act, tries to uncover the evidence that can prove a death row inmate's innocence just hours before his execution.
Though it had its exaggerated moments too, it offers a complex and perplexing character played with intelligence by Eastwood.
The final scenes are supposed to be jaw-dropping. But, because of what has gone before them, especially the sequence in which Bloom has to sprint to the death house to try and rescue Gale, the final revelation leaves one cold.
The film feels overwritten for the most part. Take the television debate over the death penalty between the governor, a George W Bush stand-in, and Gale. It looks contrived though it offers a couple of insights into Gale's personality.
When the movie is over, it emerges as one of its few believable sequences.