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Movie Review: "The Life of David Gale"

In Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times review of this film, he gave it zero stars.

That's noteworthy; over the last 18 years Ebert has given only 27 other films a zero, including such luminaries as "Slackers" and "Jaws the Revenge". "The Life of David Gale" is a serious film about the topic of the death penalty, directed by Alan Parker, who has directed excellent films such as "Mississippi Burning" and "Midnight Express".

So, and also given that I had a free DGA screening, I figured I had to see this film to see why Roger hated it so much.

He's both right and wrong. The film is preachy, as you might expect a film on this topic to be, and the dialogue at times is vapid and way too slick. Kevin Spacey plays Gale, a college professor who's a death penalty activist, whose life is derailed when he has a quickie sexual encounter with the oddly named "Berlin"(British actress Rhona Mitra).

Even this seems a smokescreen for the real story, which is that Spacey's character is apparently framed for a murder he didn't commit, that of one of his death penalty activist colleagues, Constance (Laura Linney, in one of her finest performances).

I won't spoil the various thriller-type twists this plot takes. Most of the story is framed around flashbacks during an interview Gale gives to Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet, and where did they make up that silly name? It undermines her credibility, not to mention the tight jeans she wore throughout the film).

The bottom line is, Ebert is both right and wrong. The ending doesn't make sense, but neither did I feel the ending was so totally dishonest, as Ebert wrote, to undermine the entire message of the film. It did have some redeeming qualities; Spacey's acting, as usual, is understated and terrific, and Winslet did about the best American accent I've ever heard from a British actor.

But if you want to see an honest movie on the topic of the death penalty, go see "Dead Man Walking", which is based on real events. The fictionalization in "David Gale" fits the filmmakers' desires and views too neatly, and so ruins their message in the telling.

AYRating: **