Directed by Alan Parker. USA. 2003.

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"Capital punishment feeds the cycle of violence in society by pandering to a lust for revenge. It 
brutalizes us, and deadens our sensitivities to the precious nature of every single human life." 
Most Rev. David B. Thompson, Bishop of Charleston, S.C., December 3, 1998

Our culture often sees violence as a way to solve problems. A common response to violence is to seek revenge for these crimes; however, recent news stories about the exoneration of over 90 former death row inmates show that innocent persons may be executed in the process. Many prominent political and religious groups have called for the abolition of capital punishment as an integral part of the defence of human life. Unfortunately, The Life of David Gale shows anti-death penalty protestors in such a negative light that the proponents must be rejoicing. Director Alan Parker, who gave us heroic FBI agents in Mississippi Burning, wants us to believe that opponents of capital punishment are unprincipled egotists, alcoholics, frauds, hypocrites and womanizers who are willing to throw away their principles to promote their cause. 

Kevin Spacey plays David Gale, a Philosophy Professor in Texas and an anti-capital punishment advocate. He finds himself on death row in a Texas prison after having been convicted of rape and the murder of Constance Harraway (Laura Linney) a fellow activist. Along comes Kate Winslet as Bitsey Bloom together with an intern Zack Stemmons (Gabriel Mann) to spice up the action. Bitsey (c'mon folks) is an investigative reporter who Gale chooses because he thinks she will not compromise her sources and wants to prove his innocence. With his execution in a couple of days, Gale's tells his story to Bitsey and it is dramatized in flashbacks announced in dizzying sequences that flash words at you such as desire, murder, and punishment. 

The film gets deeper and deeper into absurdity as the convoluted plot unfolds. Gale has sex with a vengeful ex-student who accuses him of rape. He loses his job, his wife and their son, and becomes an alcoholic. When Constance is found murdered, Gale is convicted and sent to death row to await execution. With time running out and in possession of sensational videotape, Bitsey and Zack must figure out the truth about what took place and stay one step ahead of a cowboy in a pickup truck who is following them. With more plot holes than craters on the moon, however, the audience will be several steps ahead of her.

The Life of David Gale is not a film about capital punishment at all. It just uses the issue to attract audiences to what is essentially a standard thriller that has an unbelievable plot. No anti-capital punishment activist would ever have to compromise their integrity to make a point. They need only look to the public record where many actual cases of wrongful conviction exist and where the Governor of Illinois recently released everyone on death row because of questionable evidence. The film does not tell us about the real death row, where the poor and minorities are more likely to be executed than those who commit similar crimes but who can afford better legal help. A film about a Black or Hispanic defendant who cannot afford a high-priced lawyer with a ponytail would not play at the box office. The Life of David Gale is a cynical and dishonest film that should be sentenced to movie death row awaiting execution.

Howard Schumann
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