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Blowing A Gale
The Life of David Gale (DVD)
Member Name: jillmurphy
The Life of David Gale (DVD)
Date: 25/03/04, updated on 25/03/04 (126 review reads)
Advantages: Great theme, Good acting
Disadvantages: Plot holes, Inconsistencies
David Gale has been on Death Row for six years. Convicted of the sadistic rape and murder of his friend and colleague, it is just three days before his execution and all appeals and stays are exhausted. In return for a payment of half a million dollars, he grants his first interviews ? one two hour session for each of the three days ? to "kiddie porn" investigative journalist Bitsey Bloom. Gale had been a successful college professor and ? in a supreme irony - a committed campaigner against the death penalty in Texas. Some time ago, a drunken one-night-stand with a student who filed a rape charge against him had ruined Gale's career. Although the student dropped the charges eventually, mud had stuck as it always sticks. Gale's wife left him, taking their young son - and light of Gale's life - with her. He lost his job and sunk into depression and the bottle. When his friend, ex-colleague and fellow campaigner, Constance, was found raped and asphyxiated, Gale's name, unsurprisingly, fitted the frame. What he has to say to Bloom casts more than a reasonable doubt over his conviction, but Bloom has only three days before that lethal injection, three days to find the true culprit?
Despite his brilliance, David Gale is a rather sad little man really. He has a sharp intellect, a crusading zeal and a genuine love for his child that leaves him vulnerable. He is an attractive man but an arrogant, self-indulgent, manipulative one. His tragedy is that he is too bright to be anything other than painfully aware that he is the architect of his own misfortune. Of course, this sort of role is a walk in the park for Spacey. He is excellent: understated, honest, so unsympathetic as to be sympathetic. Winslett as Bloom does her best with a stereotypical character ? she is a hardboiled female reporter with a predicta
bly vulnerable soft centre. She is good, but her part is yawnsome. Her stooge intern, played by Gabriel Mann, has a similarly plot-necessary but uninspired set of lines, and he delivers them as best he can. Laura Linney plays the dead woman, Constance. She is spectacular. Quiet, unassuming, but utterly determined, Linney brings the emotional depth to the film. Constance is the hook, the tug at the heartstrings, the tragedy at the heart of The Life of David Gale. The strength and grace Linney brings to the role ensure that Constance never excites mawkish sentimentality. I thought she stole the show, even from Spacey.
The Life of David Gale is, in many ways, a peculiar, even unsuccessful film. As a thriller, it falls down regularly. It is no Se7en, no Memento. There are many plot-holes, some rather ridiculous inconsistencies and Kate Winslett's Bitsey seems to rush about like mad, never getting anywhere. The film's three day countdown is nicely structured but director Alan Parker ? surprisingly for the man who brought us such films as Midnight Express, Birdy and The Commitments - allows himself some dreadfully hackneyed directorial tricks ? cars breaking down in the dark, shadowy men waiting in the fog, subliminal graffiti flash-ups marking chapter changes. Winslett's swift transformation from hard-nosed reporter to sensitive, scarred-forever, trembling girlie is just plain silly. The final twist is? expected. As a piece of political polemic against the death penalty, the film lacks the courage and the pain of work such as Dead Man Walking. Although Parker does not patronise us with dull character expositions of the arguments ? aside from Gale's one [failed] television debate ? he fights shy of asking us to face the most difficult principle of aboliti
onism. This is not the possibility of executing an innocent man. Parker never asks us if we are able to look guilt and evil in the face and STILL say, "I will not kill". So, The Life of David Gale is neither taut thriller nor agonising exploration of our own flawed humanity.
Nevertheless, despite this, The Life of David Gale does build tension, and this tension is more apt for being discomfort at the thought of an execution than suspense at what will be the final denouement. It tells a sad, disturbing but ultimately thought-provoking story and I guess that is what it set out to do. Moreover, Parker has given the The Life of David Gale a deeply buried layer of subtlety. Current thinkers such as Noam Chomsky are asking us to consider our fears ? you may have seen his thoughts running down into the words of more grass roots political tub-thumpers such as John Pilger and Michael Moore. The Life of David Gale asks us this same question in a quiet counterpoint running throughout its every scene. What is that frightens us? Who are our bogeymen? The shadowy Al Qaeda terrorists? The paedophiles? The rapists and serial killers? The madmen so dangerous with guns that we must arm ourselves too? Are these the bogeymen of whom we should be most afraid? Are they really those who most threaten our freedom and our daily lives? Or is it that we should be more afraid of the scaremongers themselves ? our leaders and our media moguls? Who is the real threat? The shadowy redneck in his pick-up or the administrations that feed our fear with public executions? I am not sure that The Life of David Gale has the answer to such questions, because it simply does not go far enough. I do think, though, that it is important that such questions be asked. F
or that reason alone, I think this film is worthwhile.
The DVD is a good package. Er? if Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic and Dolby Digital 5:1 means anything to you then super, but they mean nothing to me. I can say that the transfer seemed more than adequate on the ludicrously expensive boys' toys viewing gadgetry we have in our house. Both score ? written by Parker's two sons apparently ? and dialogue were crisp and clear. The print was, to Murphy Myopia at any rate, free of nasty grainy bits or distortions. Once I had found my way around the peculiar navigation, I enjoyed the extras. You get all the standards: director's commentary, interviews with the stars, trailers, making of, and a mini documentary on capital punishment in the state of Texas. Such anorak extras seldom interest me ? the film is the thing you see ? but I guess perhaps I am interested enough in the issue of capital punishment to make them worthwhile. The trailers and the interviews are the usual dull fodder but the commentary is interesting, likewise the making of. Best of all is the potted history of execution in Texas. Parker is strongly anti-death penalty, but he has included some very worthwhile interviews with others ? legislators, prison warders ? who are not. If the film leaves you with pause for thought, then this is an interesting and sensitive contribution to the debate.
Rated 15 for swearing, two (uninspiring) sex scenes and a snuffesque video clip of asphyxiation, The Life of David Gale is probably not for the squeamish. The video clip is distressing and even an anti-censor like me would baulk at letting a sensitive or immature child watch it. It would certainly give my children nightmares for weeks.
Ultimately, that I enjoyed a film that explored the issues surrounding capital punishment, that was
directed by Alan Parker and that starred Kevin Spacey, is no surprise. I am a great fan of Alan Parker and although I have made some criticisms of him here, I still feel that a Parker off day is considerably better than a good day by many other directors. Kevin Spacey, for me, is one of the most reliable and understated actors in Hollywood currently, and he does not let me down here. I did enjoy The Life of David Gale, if enjoy is an appropriate word to use in writing about capital punishment. I thought it had some interesting comments to make on the death penalty and, better still, was a thought-provoking meditation on the perception of fear in our post 9-11 society. Despite its technical flaws, I thought that The Life of David Gale had "soul", if you like, and I am going to award it four Dooyoo stars. If you are looking for the ultimate thriller and if the combination of theme, director and leading man are not so a propos to your tastes though, you would probably give it three.