The Life of David Gale (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

WARNING: I am about to spoil the entire plot. If you haven't seen the film and plan to, don't read on.

I'm going to take a wild guess and say this movie was intended to present the case against the death penalty. How do I know this? I was able to use my trained critical instincts to pick up on the subtle clues that would have been missed by you less experienced moviegoers. For example, all the people who oppose the death penalty are played by sensitive, attractive, reasonable, articulate, thoughtful people like Laura Linney and Kevin Spacey. All the people who are in favor of the death penalty look like the guy who played Porky. In fact, if that Porky guy had shown up at one of their rallies, they would have suspected him of being a liberal Ivy League professor. If Billy Bob Thornton had joined their cause, they would have told him to stop puttin' on those high-falutin' airs. These are people who think George W. Bush is a brainiac grammar-nazi. When interviewed, they squint up their little piggie eyes, and say things through their fat, grease-stained lips like, "thet there injectionatin' is too good for 'im. I reckon we should set on 'im with jackhammers and wild pigs."

If the subtlety of the casting fails to convince you that the death penalty is wrong, then the plot is supposed to do the trick. Spacey is a soft-spoken philosophy professor who is accused of a brutal murder. Kate Winslet is a reporter who's trying to get the goods on his story, and becomes convinced of his innocence.

Now, here are some details of the plot that probably should make you a little suspicious of the case against Spacey:

1. He is an earnest opponent of the death penalty. He has just been fired from his teaching job for having a sexual relationship with a student. His wife left him for the same reason. He feels like he has nothing left to live for.

2. The woman he raped and killed is an equally sincere and dedicated opponent of the death penalty. She is dying of leukemia. She feels like her life and death are meaningless.

3. The seemingly incompetent lawyer who defended Spacey - why, it almost seemed like he wasn't trying at all.

4. Parts of the murder are on video tape. Convenient, eh?

5. After the night when he supposedly killed Linney, Spacey was basking in the sun on Linney's lawn, and left only after giving the neighbors plenty of opportunities to see him.

6. Spacey doesn't talk to Winslet until three days before his execution. Ask yourself why he waited.

Are you starting to see the point? If you haven't already figured  it out, Linney was going to die anyway, so she figured she might as well die for something worthwhile. The first video tape that I mentioned turned out to be an edited version. In the Extended Cut Version #2, it is apparent that Linney actually committed suicide. The idea was that Linney and her co-conspirator would reveal the truth after Spacey's execution, thus proving how foolish the prosecutors were, and how quick they were to execute an innocent man on circumstantial evidence. At that point, it seemed that poor Spacey was framed and died for no reason. Oh, the irony that he, too, opposed the Death Penalty!

The final surprise: there is actually a Super Extended Special Edition Version #3 Director's Cut of the video, with even more deleted scenes - showing that Spacey was in on the suicide plot from the beginning.  Spacey had so little to live for that he was willing to be a martyr. There is an important lesson to be learned from this film: always wait for the Director's Cut of the movie before drawing any conclusions.

Yeah, like you couldn't figure that out the Spacey was in on it when he was framing himself by virtually handing out his business card to the neighbors in the hours after Linney died. "Hi, I'm David Gale, and I'm here in your neighborhood to ... er ... um ... hand out The Watchtower. Yeah, that's the ticket. I'm a Jehovah's Witness, not a guy who killed one of your neighbors. Oh, look, I'm all out of the Watchtower, but my name again is David Gale, and I have all the back issues at home. Here's my card. Call me if you need anything."

And what about the timing? Winslet is supposed to be a good reporter, so she tells Spacey, "you should have agreed to talk to me much sooner", knowing that she could prove his innocence with her investigative abilities, if she just had more time than the three days he allowed her. If she were REALLY a good reporter, she would say, "OK, now you tell me exactly WHY you waited until the last minute to tell me all this, and I'm not going to move from this spot until I get an answer that satisfies me". I guess the scriptwriter didn't think a top-notch journalist, "Mike Wallace with PMS", would ever ask a silly question like "why?" The obvious answer would have been, "because I wanted you to publicize my innocence, but not in time to prevent my execution". And that's what I assumed right from the beginning, thus making the rest of the plot unnecessary. I thought to myself, "It can't be that obvious, can it?" It was.

As if the film's argument weren't flawed enough already, the details of the film are completely annoying. At one point Kate Winslet is in her car, racing against the clock to stop the execution, while possessing version #2 of the film, which shows Linney committing suicide. Can you guess what happens? Just as she is about to succeed, the engine light goes on, and her car craps out on her. Her plan? She has to run the rest of the way. If you can imagine Kate Winslet running, you can determine that this plan is deeply flawed. If she took on Abe Vigoda in a sprint, she'd be checking out Fish-tail all the way. This girl couldn't out-run Cartman.

What bugged me the most about the race against the clock was that the script was obviously imagined to take place in the days before cell phones. They simply didn't know how to make it work in the current world, so they just left cell phones out of the picture completely, pretending they had never been invented. A real character similar to Winslet, allegedly a media star on the Mike Wallace level, would probably carry not one but two cell phones as I did in my international commuting days, and her intern would have one as well. Since this script seems to come from the old days, Winslet and her assistant have to make phone calls from pay phones, just as they used to do in Ludlum novels and the Redford-Beatty strident liberal conspiracy movies of the mid-70s (Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor), from which this film takes its spiritual communion.

Oh, yeah - one more thing really sums up the film's competency as a thriller. Two cars race to a railroad crossing. One beats the speeding train, the one behind is cut off.  'Nuff said about that.

As badly as it fails as a thriller, it did worse as advocacy. If you have been following all this, you realize that the film proves (1) that all opponents of the death penalty are conspiratorial fanatics who will do anything to prove their point, no matter how much they have to stretch the truth (2) liberal filmmakers insist on portraying their opponents as drooling single-minded idiots.

No, wait.


Rhona Mitra shows her buns from the side.

Laura Linney shows her buns and breasts in the murder scene, and a very brief flash of pubes. (Her face is not visible, but Linney has said it was she, not a double)

I thought the film was supposed to be against the death penalty. Oh, I'm so confused.

The two numbered points above are practically "smoking gun" evidence to prove that Rush Limbaugh has been right about something all along. If the film was supposed to be against the death penalty, why did death penalty proponents leave this film feeling so smug? 

By the way, Winslet's character is named Bitsy Bloom. No special point, I just thought you'd like to know. Bitsy Bloom. In most of her other movies, Bloomy Bits would be more accurate.

And that guy who played Spacey's lawyer was a perfect incarnation of how people in the North view us Texans. Remember this was a big-time lawyer, not a trailer-dweller, and he had a pony tail, diseased teeth and gums, and was constantly saying things like "holy macacows dere, missy, you done rushin' to put the hot sauce on da wrong crawdads, like cuzzin' Cletis leavin' da holler after settin' fire to Cooter's hound dog". He talked like a cross between Foghorn Leghorn and Amos 'n Andy. I admit we have some colorful ways of sayin' shit down here in Texas, but I never heard anybody talk like this outside of a Loozeeanne gator-wrestlin' tournament, and even then it's only for the tourists. Believe it or not, we sometimes string together as many as three sentences in a row without using the word "crawdads".

Roger Ebert, in a scathing zero star review, noticed one more illogical thing about the plot. This blew over my head at the time I watched the film, but I later realized he was right. Just before the epilogue, we are led to believe that Spacey was an innocent men, an opponent of the death penalty who had ironically been incorrectly subjected to it. In the epilogue, Winslet receives version #3 of the tape, which shows that Spacey actually was part of the conspiracy to frame himself. Why would Spacey and/or his colleagues send that last tape to a big-time reporter? In order for Spacey's martyrdom to be validated, he needs to be an innocent man, as Winslet believes him to be before viewing the last tape. Once Winslet sees the tape, Spacey's innocence can only be preserved if Winslet keeps the last tape a secret. If she reveals it, then Ol' Spacey is just a slimy conspirator willing to do anything for the purpose of his political cause, and his death is in vain. So, there Winslet is, a reporter sitting on the biggest scoop of her career, and she's supposed to keep it a secret. Even if you buy into the fact that she doesn't care about her career, you also have to buy into the fact that she doesn't care about the truth. If she doesn't care about either the truth or her career, how did she get to her position in the first place? You see Ebert's point? If the plot were based on reality, the death penalty advocates (including Spacey) would never have sent Winslet that last tape. It was just a plot contrivance. The writer could have gotten around that point by having Winslet discover the truth some other way, but it just doesn't make any sense for the abolitionists to send her a tape proving themselves conspirators, and rendering their double martyrdom nugatory.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Audio commentary with director Alan Parker

  • 4 very short deleted scenes with Optional Commentary

  • The Making of David Gale

  • The music of David Gale

  • Death in Texas

  • Poster Concepts

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 2.35:1

Hey, Spacey! Just one personal point. Robin Williams screwed up about twenty years of his career by taking the kind of lame, mawkish roles that you are now taking. It is only in the past year or so that he's been able to get back on track. Why don't you accelerate the process and get out now, because you are a very talented guy who can do much better than this for the next two decades.

Hey Alan Parker! You are a helluva filmmaker. I wish I had your talent, so I could use it for good instead of evil.

Winslet runs to save Spacey's life. As Dennis Miller said about another topic, if the symbolism were any more obvious, Andrew Lloyd Webber would be writing a musical about it.

The public reaction to this film has been interesting from a marketing perspective. Critics generally loathed it, but it scores fairly high from the voters at IMDb and Yahoo, and it got excellent exit scores at Cinema Score. Young girls scored it "A+" in Cinema Score's analysis, and score it 9.5/10 so far at IMDb. Women in general score it nearly a point higher than men at IMDb. It is, therefore, the rarest of cinema animals - a political thriller which is not only a chick-flick, but one that skews young! I didn't think there was such a thing, because teenage girls are not generally considered to be very interested in political issues. Their high ratings for this film lead one to reconsider what may be done with the genre. The reactions of female audiences to David Gale may influence future filmmakers to consider making a certain type of highly personal political thriller as a viable entry into the "date movie" market. The Life of David Gale is not in itself a triumph of the genre, but it may be a harbinger of a trend that other filmmakers will follow.


The subject is capital punishment in the world capital of that practice, Texas. Kate Winslet is a hot shot magazine reporter given a three part interview with a man who has lost his last possible appeal, and will die the day after the three days of interviews.

The man, Kevin Spacey, is convicted or raping and murdering fellow anti-capital punishment activist Laura Linney, who was his only remaining friend, and was dying of leukemia. He had not always been friendless, but he lost his job as the darling of a university Philosophy department, and then lost his wife and son, when an expelled graduate student seduced him, then accused him of rape. Already an alcoholic, his life was not in good shape after he lost everything.

That is the set up. If you have an interest in the rest of the story, there are three good options. You could rent and watch it, read Scoopy's lengthy review (which I agree 100% with), or go to the 33 minute point of the film and listen to a short conversation to learn the ending.

This film was made by talented people, both director and cast, but is one of the worst disappointments I have seen lately. Even the full nudity from Laura Linney couldn't take the bad taste out of my mouth. You would think these people would understand that to make a thriller suspenseful and therefore interesting, there has to be some doubt about the outcome, and preferably at least one surprise. The final solution comes in an epilogue, and, even with only seconds left of the running time, I was absolutely certain what secret would be discovered.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 0/4, Berardinelli 3/4, BBC 3/5, Entertainment Weekly C.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.7/10 (women 7.4), Yahoo voters 3.7/5
  • Box Office Mojo. A disaster. Produced for $38 million, with another $25 million in distribution and promotion costs, it grossed less than $20 million at the domestic box.


Special Scoopy awards for excellence in criticism go to:

Order of merit in humor: Movie Juice, who else?

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "This film is a C-. There are indications that talented people made this film, but they failed overall. As a work of political advocacy, it accomplishes the opposite of what it intended.  As a mystery, the solution is so obvious that it seems like it must be wrong, yet isn't. As a thriller, it uses every worn-out suspense trick in the book. As a character study, it is completely one-dimensional and one-sided. I scored it a C- not on my own opinion, but because it seems to have a solid niche audience." Tuna says, "this is a C-, as it has some following, but, were it up to me, I would sue the production company for wasting my time and insulting my intelligence."

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