The Green Mile was a quiet film about a prison guard who was able to see the good in a man on death row. It was a drama, and it was executed to near-perfection. Beneath the surface, though, there were hints at a political message, suggesting that, perhaps, the man on death row was innocent, and he shouldn’t be put to death.
While Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile uses a mouse to take a stance on the death penalty issue, Alan Parker’s The Life of David Gale uses all the subtlety of a sledgehammer as it tears its statement through the screen.
As a thriller with a twist ending about a man with a conspiracy theory, the film creates suspense as well as any Oliver Stone political drama. But as a means to change one’s mind about capital punishment, it fails miserably.
However, that could just be a reflection that hardly any film could seriously attempt to affect one’s ideologies on a given subject. And if a piece of art can, it won’t be found in another run-of-the-mill story of a man who may or may not have been framed for a rape and murder.
Philosophy professor David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is heralded as an intellectual and dismissed as a liberal. As Texas’ leading death penalty abolitionist — he even debates a George W.-esque governor on TV — David is the least likely person to end up on death row. That is, until after an act of indiscretion with an expelled student leads to charges of rape, and later a downward spiral into divorce, alcoholism and unemployment.
Four days to his scheduled departure, David offers a series of interviews with a national news magazine reporter named Bitsey (Kate Winslet), who becomes enamored with his cause and eventually tries to help stay his execution.
Spacey is believable in his role of a flawed man in a tragic situation. But this role is nothing monumental on the esteemed actor’s resume.
And after the twist, Winslet’s journalist seems to be nothing more than a Hollywood script ploy inserted to facilitate the telling of David’s story. Other than that, the multiple Oscar-nominated actress exudes a sense of toughness not seen from her before.
The film is told through flashbacks, with Bitsey hearing David detail the events leading up to his arrest for the rape and murder of a fellow professor named Constance, played with sincerity and unabashed abandon by Laura Linney. A good portion of screen time is dedicated to the “mystery” videotape footage of Constance’s death, in which she is seen completely naked on a kitchen floor.
Beyond the thriller genre in which The Life of David Gale aspires to excel, the film’s message is the driving point of the film. Many arguments are made throughout, refuting those put forth by death penalty proponents. After a while though, it seems the actors are debating among themselves, and their points fall upon bored ears.
Capital punishment opponents, such as former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, will no doubt applaud The Life of David Gale‘s attempts to push the issue into the forefront of current American pop culture. And regardless of where moviegoers stand on the issue, countless hours of discussion will be devoted to this topic in the coming weeks.
That’s what movies — and pieces of art, in general — are ultimately designed to do. When a response is evoked as a result of viewing the film, the artists behind the production can sit back and be proud that they were a part of something that will be remembered.
Whether they change someone’s stance on the death penalty as a result is another story. At least Parker, Spacey, Winslet and Linney didn’t waste their time on the sequel to Dude, Where’s My Car?
Drama, R, Running time: 130 min.
Contact Will Albritton at firstname.lastname@example.org