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The Life of David Gale
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Broadcast on air: 3/3/03 and 3/5/03


The Life of David Gale is Alan Parker's latest movie with a political theme-the death penalty (Parker has directed other movies on political topics, such as Angela's Ashes, Evita, and Mississippi Burning). It stars Kevin Spacey as professor of philosophy and anti-death penalty activist David Gale; Kate Winslet as Bitsey Bloom, a reporter who's recently made a big splash for refusing to give up her sources in a child pornography exposé; and Laura Linney as Constance, David's colleague and also an anti-death penalty activist. There are other notable characters, but this is the triangle that sets up the argument and plot of the movie.

As the film opens, David Gale is on death row, accused of the rape/murder of his colleague. His lawyer offers to grant a three-day, six-hour interview with Bitsey, right up until the day of Gale's execution, in exchange for something like half a million dollars. Bitsey goes, but the News magazine sends an intern with her because they feel there should be a guy around. The intern, Zack, played by Gabriel Mann is, as far as I can tell, a marketing technique to ensure young male audiences, though he does have some good lines, and serves as a liberal and compassionate foil to the almost hard-nosed Bitsey.

The rest of the movie consists of flashbacks to David Gale's narration, and the investigative reporting activities of Bitsey and Zack as they hang out in Texas getting their story. I think a lot of people think this is a liberal movie: critics do not fail to comment on its scathing portrayal of the governor of Texas (get it?) and on the general contempt exhibited for Texas and Texans. Yes, I suppose that's true; but underneath its liberal veneer The Life of David Gale is brutally and sleazily reactionary, designed to achieve a consensus by pulling the wool over good liberals' eyes. When you see the movie-and I do recommend that you see it-pay attention to the song that plays over the final credits-this film is not on the progressive side of anything.

Kevin Spacey is a great actor-it's hard not to go to any film he's in. He's been running around telling us he doesn't give a damn about the death penalty, thus undermining any pretensions to seriousness this movie might have had. Fine, Kevin, you're just an actor. I think that speaks poorly of you; on the other hand, at least you're not an actor pretending to be a politician, if you know what I mean.

This is not, I repeat not, an anti-death penalty film; it's not even as almost-liberal as Dead Man Walking was. Now that that's out of the way, can I also say this is a viciously misogynistic film? The way it takes the gains of women's rights-especially in the courts-and savagely twists them around to argue for a liberal pro-feminist bias in the judicial system is simply mind-boggling. There are not one but two false rape accusations. This message--that the courts and the judicial system are being misused and abused for the sake of liberal interest groups--is how we know for sure that The Life of David Gale is happy about the current death penalty laws.

They just had to displace it onto mass media's favorite whipping, ahem, girl, feminism.
Like I said, it's worth watching this movie, not only for Kevin Spacey's splendid acting and the sustainable intrigue of the plot's unfolding, but also for the brilliant ideological achievement of having presented a conservative wolf in liberal sheep's clothing, and succeeded in fooling so many. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.