"The Life of David Gale" seemed to be one of the more promising films of the past year. It contained two of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet. Spacey, who became famed after his performance in 1995's "The Usual Suspects", remains an intelligent actor who has extraordinary dramatic and comedic skills. He's also able to turn watery dialogue into wine quite often. She, on the other hand, has turned in little-seen, but extremely good work in the little-seen "Holy Smoke", "Iris", "Quills" and "Hideous Kinky". They, along with many other talented individuals with a respectable resume, are trapped in this absurd, often terrible movie.
Kevin Spacey plays David Gale, a death penalty abolitionist who now finds himself convicted of the rape and murder of a fellow activist (Laura Linney). His only hope is reporter Bitsy Bloom (Kate Winslet), who only has a matter of a few hours of interviews to not only chronicle Gale's story, but find out the truth behind Gale's conviction. Accompanied by her assistant (Gabriel Mann), Bitsy seeks to find out the answer to the twist ending many members of the audience will likely see coming.
Everything else flawed about it aside, I didn't like "The Life of David Gale" for a series of core reasons. For one, it's one of those movies where the audience is rarely allowed to come to their own conclusion; the characters are always explaining the current events to one another. Secondly, the movie lacks any sort of subtlety; it's full of Big Speeches and even has big title cards with various related words cut together (and spun around, no less) and serving as transitions between the flashbacks. Thirdly, it's the kind of movie that has a mysterious guy in a truck following Bitsy and her assistant. Is it any mystery that this person has evidence? Is it any mystery that Bitsy's troublesome rental car is going to break down at a bad moment? Who names a character Bitsy? Lastly, the film attempts to be a debate on the subject, but it instead only really seems concerned with capital punishment as background for a very mediocre (and occasionally bizarre) thriller.
The performances are all merely okay, but I really don't think anyone could have saved this thriller. Spacey provides a relatively straightforward performance that works, aside from a couple of emotional scenes that I was surprised - given that it's Spacey - didn't seem entirely believable. Winslet decently tries for an American accent, while Linney is stranded with little character development and few good lines. Overall, the actors are what make "Gale" work; they try to pull together characters out of what's in the screenplay and make the twists and turns believable. They don't succeed, but they give it a good effort.
VIDEO: "Life of David Gale" is presented by Universal Home Video in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This one certainly didn't start off well. The opening scene of Kate Winslet running down a dusty, small-town avenue suffered from some awfully noticable edge enhancement and dirt on the print. Unfortunately, things didn't really clear up from there. Edge enhancement - and some rather nasty amounts of it at times - is present in several scenes. Slight pixelation also appears. Dirt, specks and marks on the print used do continue to turn up on occasion. These flaws do become a bit less frequent in the second half of the film, but still make appearances.
It's tough to find something positive about the transfer. Sharpness and detail were inconsistent throughout the presentation, as definition was passable at times, but seemed to suffer as a result of the other problems going on within the presentation at times, as well as the fact that the picture seemed noticably a bit darker in appearance than what I'd think would be intentional. Colors throughout the presentation remained a bit subdued throughout, but still seemed accurate and without issue. Overall, a rather mediocre presentation.
SOUND: "Life of David Gale" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. However, the majority of the film seemed more like a 3.1 soundtrack, as the occasional loud moments of score that accompanied the transitions were the only element of the soundtrack ever delivered by the rear speakers. Otherwise, this remained a dialogue-driven feature, with little in the way of ambience/environmental sounds. Audio quality seemed satisfactory, with clear dialogue and score.
EXTRAS: Commentary with director Alan Parker, featurettes on the film's music, the Texas Death Row and a general "making of; the film's theatrical trailer; poster gallery; bios and 4 deleted scenes w/commentary.
Final Thoughts: A disappointing drama, "Gale" brings together a talented cast in service of an underdeveloped screenplay that tries to be a debate and a thriller and doesn't do either well. Universal's DVD offers surprisingly lackluster image quality, decent audio and a handful of features. Not recommended.
The Film *