The Life of David Gale (2003)

Does this even argue anything about the death penalty?

When Texas professor David Gale (Kevin Spacey), an advocate for the elimination of the death penalty, is falsely accused and convicted of the rape and murder of another activist (Laura Linney), he ends up on the state’s notorious death row himself. In a series of flashbacks, Gale tells his story to a young reporter (Kate Winslet) who’s visiting him on death row, leaving her to sort out his guilt or innocence.

The whole film I was expecting it to be another argument on the death penalty, and how it is just soo wrong. However, it just turns out to be an interesting jig-saw puzzle that you can’t steer away from.

The first two thirds of this film are quite riveting, mostly because the plots twists and turns, all come at you right away, without you even knowing. By the end the films twists really do seem to be implausible, and actually kind of stupid, but it was first two thirds that really had me going in the first place.

The cinematography is very ho-hum and certain editing techniques used to link scenes in the present to scenes in the past, where the camera spirals over words like: innocence, love, guilt, hate, are pretentious as hell. These montages are also so grossly out of place that they seem as if they were clipped from an episode of NYPD Blue.

The performances given here by Spacey and Winslet, is what in the end really won me over here. Kevin Spacey gives one of his best performances here, cause the whole film is basically given to him, to act his ass off, and well, he does just that and even more. Kate Winslet, is good as this mean, kind of bitchy reporter, but does give some good emotional scenes, although it may seem she is trying too hard. I wish these two had more scenes together to show that they could build up a great chemistry on screen. But just way too many flashbacks prohibit this.

Consensus: Although it’s plot and message seems so out-of-place by the end, The Life of David Gale, has at least two strong performances from Spacey and Winslet, as well as an interesting first two thirds of a film.



  1. I haven’t seen this for a couple of years but I do find myself thinking back to it every so often. The twists and turns in the plot really hit me hard and by surprise and because of that, I found it a very powerful film with, as you say, two very engaging central characters, both well performed. I must admit, I don’t remember the choppy editing but I’m sure you’re right and I don’t remember thinking the film was faultless. Must go back to this one soon.

  2. I enjoyed ‘The Life of David Gale’ the 1. time, but I didn’t think it held up so well on the 2. viewing, because the twists and end were not so surprising.

    I liked the way they used the Leonard Cohen song ‘The Future’, which was a kind of teaser in the story.

    The death row theme I feel has been overused in the last 20 or so years in movies.

    I prefer other Alan Parker movies like ‘Birdy’ or ‘The Wall’, which I think hold up better to repeat viewings.

  3. I think their were almost too many twists in this movie, I felt it was more concerned with the twists than saying something meaningful.

    I had a hard time figuring out the movie’s message?, what were they actually trying to say about the death penalty? I have no idea, even after 2. viewings!

    • The twists were interesting, but their were a lot, and the message really didn’t convey enough emotions about the death penalty at all.

  4. A very good review! This film got slammed with terrible reviews when it came out. I stayed away from it. But it was a pretty good flick. I enjoyed it. And you are right on about the performances too. Not a big Spacey fan (does the same thing), but here, he does an admirable job!

  5. The plot had so many twists and turns, right to the very end. It definitely left me thinking for quite sometime afterward. I passed over a re-screening of this recently, this review makes me want to definitely revisit sooner than later.

  6. [CAUTION POSSIBLE SPOILERS] i think people dont give the films meaning enough thought. i had to study this film for an english project. i think it all boils down to what david said and pleaded at court. i think he must have pleaded innocent. no one could be blamed for using the death sentence or not investigateing a man who pleads guilty. if he did plead innocent then there should have been a better investigation. to be fair if i was told a man who was trying to proove innocents die on death row killed his friend who was also trying to proove the same, and that she was dying anyway and he had lost his job and family id notice something fishy about the case and all those things i mentioned were known facts about gale and constance. i think the film at least shows that people who are actually framed for murder could be executed wrongly. anyway whoopse ive typed too much but all in all id give the film 7-8 for the acting and the meaning behind it which i believe is there

  7. i’ve seen this movie twice and loved it, but i don’t get the final ending… SPOILER! when bitsey receives the tape in the final scene, what difference does it make that david was there for the suicide? it’s not like he killed her. i don’t understand that.

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