The Life of David Gale

(directed by Alan Parker, starring Kate Winslet and Kevin Spacey, 130 mins)
released USA 21 February 2003, UK 14 March 2003

I know what you're thinking. How did I manage to wangle tickets to see this film even before most of the US have been to see it? Well, I entered a competition at BBC Manchester's website to win free preview tickets, and in fact the same promotion company are having more preview screenings in the UK. So this Tuesday 18th February there I was in the filmworks inside Manchester's Printworks complex with many others to get the chance to see this film at 7pm.

First, the basic plot: Kevin Spacey plays Dr David Gale, a philosophy lecturer at a university who is currently on America's notorius Death Row for murdering Constance Hallaway (played by Laura Linney), a fellow campaigner in the fight against the death penalty. A few days before his death, he grants an exclusive interview with Elizabeth ("Bitsey") Bloom (Kate Winslet) to give her the prized exclusive that her career has waited for, but also so that he can demonstrate to her and tell her the truth in the interview - and nothing less.

Doesn't seem that much of a plot so far? Well, there's more. Much more to that than the substance, but I don't want to give too much away and spoil it for you. The premise however is that through the story telling by Gale, Bloom starts to believe he is telling the truth and works frantically with her intern along for the assignment, Zack (Gabriel Mann) to piece together the evidence before he is put to the chair.

Anyway, to the nitty gritty. How does it perform? Well, for a start, the way the film develops has to be mentioned. Rather than focus intently on the interviewer and the interviewee during the final three days, the interview sessions are cleverly told in flashback. Although not the most original idea maybe, it does actually work because it gives the viewer the opportunity to see how things were for Gale before going on to Death Row. Day one deals with his university work and how one student Berlin (Rhona Mitra) ended up being his downfall, and how also in time that his marriage collapsed, he lost the chance to see his child (whom throughout the film he is especially close to). It is in these flashback segments of the film that Spacey really does excel, having the humanity but also the necessary emotions to carry it off. Akin to his American Beauty role, the downward spiral is plain to see, particularly as he starts drinking heavily along the way and shows all the behaviour of someone addicted to drink as well.

In the flashback we can also see the close and special friendship between Gale and Hallaway as two campaigners fighting against the system of the death penalty. Through their work, and her care of Gale, you can see how the two become closer together driven by Gale's separation but also Hallaway's despair at feeling nothing is being done despite her tireless work in campaigning. Laura Linney does well to a degree, although sometimes I felt she got a little too over-emotional, it's mostly the right amount of sentiment to do the job.

Outside of the flashback, you see over the three days the working mind of Bloom, and how the human side of the character comes out more. She may come across in the film as tough and bullish, but when scared by a return to the motel both she and Zack are staying at and finding something she shouldn't, the rawness of her letting go and being comforted seems to make Bloom's role almost quintessential of a lot of people - the hard outside, but the soft interior. Although on the whole Kate Winslet does do well, in many ways she's actually upstaged by Gabriel Mann as Zack - can't put my finger on it why, but he seems to be the more stronger of the two, and albeit nervous around Bloom as a character, it's played with much more realism. For example, Bloom has a strong American accent at the start of the film that seems to lose its way a bit through and although that doesn't put you off any per se, it does make you wonder if it was worth the accent effort in the first place, whereas Mann seems to have the character down to a tee from the off and maintains that characteristic throughout. It's especially a funny moment when he's chasing a car to aid Bloom, and you can see his frustration as he loses it (you'll see how if you watch it) just be pure and realistic. No doubting too that at the end though, Winslet's raw emotional power in the movie shows why she was casted and in the end does do pretty well.

Quick mention must also go to Leon Rippy, who plays Gale's lawyer Braxton Belyeu. Apart from the crap name, the nature of the lawyer who doesn't seem quite right seems to be captured nicely here, and although not that much of a main role, seems to augment the film quite nicely when playing his part (as well as being rather rotund).

So, ultimately, should you go and see it? Without doubt, a qualified yes. While you're not sure if it's meant to be a thruller or a drama of sorts, it does make you think about a lot of things on a lot of levels, not least questioning some aspects of The American Way as well as also giving you an inisght into how some people can become different over time in the ways events affect their lives. The crime is clear, says the tagline, the path is not. Not until the very end either, and there is a little twist or two at the end to keep things going. The nicest praise I can give this is that is didn't feel like 2 hours 10 minutes, far from it. It was enjoyable with the right amount of humour, suspense in places and movement and flow of the plot. And an excellent soundtrack by Alan Parker's son to boot which really keeps the thing on edge nicely. Do go and see it when it comes out, if not at least to make you think afterwards.

Warren's rating: 81%