R4 . COLOR . 125 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
The debate over the death penalty has raged for many years, with both sides seeming to be very passionate about their views. This debate and passion is the focus of The Life of David Gale. Director Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Evita, Birdy) discovered this script from first time writer Charles Randolph and was quickly inspired to film it. At the time it was owned by Nicolas Cage’s production company, but he was unable to make it due to other commitments so gave Parker the go ahead. The main attributes that interested Parker were the fact that it was a political thriller and also because it was so different to what Hollywood was churning out at the time.
"When you were circumcised they threw away the wrong part!"
The story begins at the end, well close to it anyway. David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is a staunch opponent to the death penalty. He has been actively fighting it for many years with a group called Death Watch, along with long time friend and activist Constance Harraway (Laura Linney). Ironically, Gale is now on death row awaiting execution. He has been there for six years awaiting his penalty and now has four days remaining. He agrees to give an interview to a New York magazine and specifically requests reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet). She is assisted by intern Zack Stemmons (Gabriel Mann) and they have only three sessions with Gale to find out the truth.
Bitsey and her intern.
Using a series of flashbacks, the story of Gale’s life and how he ended up on death row unfolds. He is a respected professor, loving husband and loyal father, so how could he possibly have been found guilty by three courts of rape and murder? In a well-paced series of events, the intriguing story of how he has come to face the death penalty is explained.
" Hate’s no fun if you keep it to yourself!"
This is an interesting story that gives a reasonably balanced argument. There is a leaning towards the anti death penalty argument, but with the director being a strong opposer of such this is understandable. The attention to detail is impressive, with the film being shot in the heart of the subject matter. Texas boasts the most executions in the US by far and these are carried out at Huntsville, where the film is shot. Even the fact that executions are enforced at 6pm is not overlooked here.
I think we're being followed.
Kevin Spacey is superb as David Gale, as is Kate Winslet with an impressive American accent. This is one of those films where the viewer is constantly guessing what the outcome will be, whether they want to or not. The good thing is that the pacing of this film is such that there are so many twists and turns throughout that you will rarely be able to guess what is coming next. Even with the facts presented to you, you are still unsure who to believe.
Some may see this film as too political, in many ways forcing the viewer to make a decision as to whether they are for or against the death penalty. To be fair to the producers, though, they have tried to stick to the facts. Huntsville is portrayed as a Bible belt community that has as many prisons as churches but, from what the producers say, this is very true. Also, the fact that the prison staff were more than helpful with this film is further testament to their feelings on the matter. They simply state that they are carrying out the law, nothing more, nothing less and showing the world the facts does them no harm.
Dead man sitting.
If you have a strong opinion on this subject matter going in to view this then The Life of David Gale may give you more ammunition for your argument. If you have no opinion on the matter at all, you may find this a little too political. For the rest of us, this is an interesting suspense film that portrays something different and a little more daring than what Hollywood usually churns out nowadays. The worse thing that can happen is you get to see Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet in fine performances.
There is little to find fault with in this gorgeous transfer. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16:9 enhanced. The majority of footage is either at night, inside a prison or in the pouring rain, so there is no demand for stunning colours. There are no signs of artefacts, bleeding, grain or any other nasties, it really does look terrific. Detail is superb and the cinematography captures the dark feel of this film beautifully. Subtitles are accurate to what is said on screen and no layer change was detected.
Audio is supplied in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and suits the film well. Being a dialogue-driven film, audio is kept predominantly across the front speakers with the rears being used occasionally for directional effect and ambience. There are not a lot of scenes requiring a riveting soundtrack but, when needed, this one delivers well. Music used throughout the film is supplied by the sons of director Alan Parker, Alex and Jake. This music suits the film well with some haunting melodies that are delivered well by this audio mix. Synch is never a problem.
There are a couple of nice extras with this release to offer more information on the production of the film as well as the subject matter.
Commentary with Director Alan Parker
Alan Parker is a bit hard to listen to for any length of time. He is a very interesting man, but his voice does tend to grate after a while. In this commentary he goes into great detail about discovering the script, going into production, casting and the actual subject of the death penalty. He offers some interesting facts about the locations also and rarely seems to take a breath.
Death in Texas
This featurette looks at Texas and its currently having the highest rate of carried out death penalties. It runs for 9:07 and should enlighten the viewer more to the facts.
There are three deleted scenes on offer here, all available with commentary from Alan Parker. Scenes included are entitled Seatbelt, Polaroid/Bond Market and Poolside.
The Making of David Gale
This lengthy featurette runs for 16:55 and mostly praises the script from first time writer Charles Randolph. It contains interviews with the main cast members and Alan Parker.
The Music of David Gale
Sons of Alan Parker, Alex and Jake, are responsible for the music of the film and this brief featurette, running for 4:48, goes into a little detail about that process. Alex has a history in rock music while Jake is classically trained, so their collaboration suited the film well.
This feature contains three different posters that were created to promote the film.
Contained here is a teaser trailer running for 1:16 and a US trailer running for 2:19. Both are of excellent quality and a good addition.
Yet again I am struggling to access DVD-ROM features on a DVD release. By using Windows Explorer to access the contents of the disc I found a web page containing an essay by Alan Parker, but that was all.
Overall this is a well acted, well paced film with a strong political content. It offers a great story and contains plenty of suspense and twists to keep it interesting throughout. The video and audio are terrific, suiting the film well, and there are a good selection of extras available. Many would probably consider this more of a rental disc than a purchase disc as the big problem with suspense films is the question of whether it will be as good the second time when you know all the outcome. Still, whether you choose to rent or buy, this is definitely recommended viewing.