Criticism

The Life of David Gale

“In an early scene in The Life of David Gale, Kevin Spacey, as the titular philosophy professor and future death row inmate, gives an impassioned classroom lecture in front of a blackboard emblazoned with the words “Deus Ex Machina.” A term used to describe a resolution to a plot problem which is too convenient for the author and unbelievable to the audience, it could very well be director Alan Parker’s sly way of warning viewers of the slipshod storytelling ahead…”

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In an early scene in The Life of David Gale, Kevin Spacey, as the titular philosophy professor and future death row inmate, gives an impassioned classroom lecture in front of a blackboard emblazoned with the words “Deus Ex Machina.” A term used to describe a resolution to a plot problem which is too convenient for the author and unbelievable to the audience, it could very well be director Alan Parker’s sly way of warning viewers of the slipshod storytelling ahead.

Gale has a doozy of a D.E.M. in a character named Dusty (Matt Craven), a mysterious and menacing cowboy who’s trotted out each time the film needs a jolt of suspense or intrigue (his curious love of opera makes for a conveniently ominous soundtrack to such moments). We know very little about Dusty, except that he’s a member of Death Watch, the same anti-capital punishment organization for which Gale was once spokesman.

Now, though, Gale faces execution himself, convicted of murdering his fellow activist, Constance (Laura Linney). With only four days to go before he’s scheduled to meet his maker, Gale consents to an interview with Bitsey (Kate Winslet), a hard-nosed reporter who is convinced Gale is guilty before even meeting him. Naturally, as Gale tells his story (depicted in extended flashbacks), Bitsey becomes less certain of his guilt. So, of course, with only hours to go before his execution, she searches desperately for evidence that will prove his innocence.

Although it starts out as an apparent attempt at thought-provoking political commentary, the story ultimately devolves into a conventional whodunit, with the action twisting and turning itself into oblivion. Bitsey frantically races against the clock, Gale stoically faces martyrdom, and all the while, Dusty lurks in the background, waiting for his inevitable cue to emerge and tie all the preposterously loose ends together.

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The Life of David Gale Cropped
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