The Life of David Gale – movie review

Starring Kate Winslet and Kevin Spacey

In case you haven’t seen a commercial or trailer for this movie, the basic story follows a woman reporter (Kate Winslet) who is interviewing a death row inmate (Kevin Spacey) just days before his scheduled execution. The commercials and trailers I have seen for it make it seem like she believes he is innocent and tries to save him from being executed. Even the movie poster shows her running from her dead car, trying to deliver what we presume is the evidence David Gale needs to be set free. The opening shot, with no explanation yet, shows her car breaking down, then her running towards town with a video cassette in hand, desperately trying to get … somewhere … with it before … something bad happens. So before we learn anything else, we know the end of the movie is her racing the clock to try to get the proving evidence to the people who need to see it.

I won’t tell you now how it goes, but you can guess. This IS a Hollywood movie.

OH yeah, but I will give away everything else about the movie. From here on, assume you are reading spoilers:


Oh, so then we finally do get introduced to the characters, David Gale is the picture of calmness and the reporter believes he is totally guilty. I mean, come on! She was murdered in an unusual way that he described in an essay he published once (he used to be a professor of philosophy) with his sperm found inside her and a partial thumbprint on the garbage bag that suffocated her! How could he NOT have killed her? Anyway, so he’s totally calm, knowing he’s going to be executed in three days and that his execution will be what his cause has been looking for for years and years but powerless to create.

Through David Gale’s retelling of the story to the reporter (presumably so she will report it all correctly, or at least put the pieces together the way he wants her to) we learn that before any of this happened, back when he was a professor of philosophy, David Gale and the woman he apparently later murders were buddies. They both worked vehemently against the death penalty. In the first discussion between them in the first flashback, for anyone who hasn’t figured out the clever twist at the end of the movie before watching it at all, they discuss that the only thing they could use to prove that the death row process was flawed would be if they could prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that an innocent person had been executed. The problem with that would be that if they discovered evidence of someone’s innocence it would simply get them off death row and prove that the system works, while holding back the information would be murder and just an unethical as they view the death penalty itself.

Have you worked it out yet? I’ll spell it out so I don’t have to describe the rest of the movie in detail, and you don’t have to watch it unless you want to see excellent performances by Kevin Spacey and Laura Linney (the woman he is being killed for killing): David Gale was involved with her, and did have sex with her the night before she died, but she killed herself and had a third party video tape it and hold onto the tape until after his conviction and execution, as proof that innocents are executed, even when they try their hardest within the system to prove their innocence.

So yadda yadda yadda, the reporter and David Gale keep talking and the whole story is revealed in flashbacks while the reporter is digging up clues about his possible innocence. There’s some heavy-handed writing, but also some very excellent writing and some amazing performances. There is even a scene right before his execution, before her car breaks down and before the intensity of her trying to get there in time, that will make people cry. Well, the people who cry during movies, anyway. All very nice and well, but since I knew what the twist ending was going to be, every scene where they were setting it up seemed almost painful. Not a funny movie, not an uplifting movie. A drama. If that’s what you’re looking for, you may enjoy The Life of David Gale.

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