The Life of David Gale

March, 2003, Thriller

Directed by:Alan Parker

Starring:Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, and Matt Craven

British director Alan Parker has more than three decades of directorial experience behind him, with credits as worthwhile as they are varied; from melodramatic but compelling successes like Midnight Express and Mississippi Burning to the lighthearted musicals Bugsy Malone and The Commitments, you can usually count on being intellectually challenged and genuinely entertained by a Parker film. Usually, but not always. This time a big league director has fanned at the plate, with a project containing all the substance and impact of a bad Little League game of interminable length.

This loopy examination of the death penalty stars Kevin Spacey as a brilliant professor, ardently (and vocally) opposed to the death penalty, who finds himself on Death Row under circumstances that point overwhelmingly to his guilt. Alas, nothing is as it seems here, but the first puzzle to be answered remains a casting one; what's Spacey doing in this film in the first place? Is he beginning to take himself too seriously?  Surely one of the most talented actors in American film today, he's taken to presenting himself in movies with MESSAGE almost stenciled across his brow, (i.e. Play It Forward and The Shipping News). How else to explain his presence in this muddle-headed thriller that intermittently struggles to denounce the evils of capital punishment as it shovels one lurid image after another at you? 

Spacey's ludicrous performance is exceeded in the excruciating category by Kate Winslet who plays a hard-bitten journalist who cries a lot as she struggles to uncover the truth before Kevin takes his long walk to the gas chamber. While this actress has slimmed down to very good effect, she generates not an ounce of credibility in propelling the convoluted plot towards its truly laughable climax. The script even scuttles the always interesting Laura Linney, who could be accurately renamed Laura Whiney; she comes off as both dishwater dull and unappealing, an almost unimaginable feat for this exceptional actress.

The film's intellectually fraudulent conclusion offers nothing more satisfactory than the opportunity to get out of your seat and back into the fresh air. What on earth were Parker and his talented cast thinking of when they spent precious time making this turkey?

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