Movie: These days, fewer causes invoke such passionate displays of emotion as the death penalty does. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was Constitutional for states to use the death penalty under certain circumstances, a number of the public has opposed its use. That number has always been in the minority but very loud about its opposition. Over the years, one state has led the others in sheer number of executions, Texas. In that state, one county has sent more killers to their maker, Harris County. Guess which county I reside in. To date, no credible proof has been offered that a single innocent in Texas has been executed-a fact that bothers death penalty abolitionists no end. That point is the basis for a movie I watched this week, The Life Of David Gale.
The movie follows the life of a college professor turned activist, David Gale (Kevin Spacey), who leads a bit of a wild life when he's not out touring the countryside. His colleagues see him as an alcoholic womanizer and they are proven right more often than not. Even his fellow activists see his weaknesses as being detrimental to "the cause" and a chain of events lead to him being convicted of murdering one of them. Upon his conviction, he is naturally given the death penalty and allows a reporter, Bitsy Bloom (Kate Winslet), a series of interviews before he is put down. During the course of these interviews, she discovers some wrongdoing and eventually uncovers a conspiracy to do David in.
Suspense filled thrillers are well received by much of the movie going audience so you'd wonder why this one was dismissed as lame by the masses and critics alike when it hit the theatres. Tentatively viewed as a movie against the death penalty, it really portrays such activists as bumbling fools and idiots more often than not. The fact is that they are just as competent, if misguided, as their opponents so the makers of this movie really weren't doing them any favors here.
Further, the pacing of the movie is all wrong for such a situation (on average it takes years to carry out a lawful sentence of this nature yet the screenplay seems to fast forward it as a plot device more than anything else). The flashbacks didn't help the timing problem either as more often than not, they didn't appear to be planned to appropriately to move the story forward in a fluid manner.
The acting didn't help matters since many of the supporting cast were relegated to roles they could've phoned in. That is somewhat related to the fact that the movie is more about trying to trick the audience, not really surprise them, in almost every case. Without being internally consistent, what some would refer to as being "true" to itself, it devolves into a tedious exercise in trying to outguess which twist or turn the director imposed at any given time. Spacey and Winslet did fine in their roles but the limitations of the story hampered even their efforts.
As much as making anti-death penalty advocates look bad causes me to smile, The Life Of David Gale does not. As such, I can only suggest it as a movie worthy of a Skip It. As an indictment on the death penalty it fails nearly as much as it does as a thriller and if that's what you're looking for, check out The Green Mile or Dead Men Walking. Both of those films may share a sentimentality that belies the subject matter, but at least they're honest in their liberal leanings.
Picture: The picture was presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen color. While some of the time it looked pretty good, there were some artifacts noticed and the fleshtones weren't quite right in several scenes. There was a variety of sharpness problems that were sometimes subtle and other times pronounced as well.
Sound: The sound was presented with a choice of either English, French, or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and optional subtitles in each or Closed Captioning for those who want them. The vocals were generally clear as was the score but there wasn't a lot of use of the channel separation such tracks typically make use of.
Extras: The extras were quite plentiful here with the best being an audio commentary by the director. In it, he discussed a number of aspects that led me to think he really was against the death penalty and that he knew about some of the technical problems he faced. The next extra was a featurette about the death penalty called, Death In Texas, which mentioned a nearby community, Huntsville. Not a bad documentary. The 4 deleted scenes weren't great but they had their own optional commentary that added some minor value. They were followed by a Behind the Scenes look at the making of the movie, and another BTS about the music used in the movie. Toss in a featurette on the posters for the movie and the trailer, along with the BTS for the soundtrack, a section on the cast and filmmakers, there was a section for dvd rom features but none seemed to work for me (I have an older computer). Lastly, there was a lengthy written text by the director discussing the death penalty, The Death Penalty: The Political Argument, in which Parker gives an overview about the differences between the US and other countries as well as his stance. There was no paper insert to the dvd case.
Final Thoughts: If you're interested in the death penalty, it'll be worth a rental for the extras if not the movie itself but most of the material is readily available for free on the internet. If you'd rather enjoy a movie by the director that had some real light moments, and was much better made, look for Fame, otherwise, pass this one up.