Reviewed by: Megan Basham
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven | Directed by: Alan Parker | Produced by: Alan Parker, Nicolas Cage, Jeff Levine | Written by: Charles Randolph | Distributor: Universal Pictures
Every once in awhile, I go to a movie I know is likely to anger and offend me. Actually, considering how many movies are likely to offend a believer in Christ, I should probably be more specific. I’m talking about those films that attempt to shape our cultural ideology. The truth is, some people in Hollywood use their positions to try and influence the way the public thinks about the most significant ethical issues of our day. And, sadly, very often, it works.
We’ve all seen the way homosexuality has become “mainstream” through funny movies like “The Birdcage” and funny TV shows like “Will and Grace.” And the way Oscar-winning films like “The Cider House Rules” turn abortion doctors into heroes. In an age when most people get their opinions from what they watch rather than what they read, if we Christians hope to have a meaningful voice in our culture, we have to be ready to respond—in love—when the truth of God is challenged.
Though masquerading as a thriller, “The Life of David Gale” is to capital punishment what “The Cider House Rules” was to abortion. It depicts an intelligent, flawed, but supposedly sympathetic man taking courageous actions to show that he is more righteous than God or his people.
Philosophy professor David Gale (Kevin Spacey), along with his friend Constance Harraway (Laura Linney), heads up the anti-death penalty group, DeathWatch. Through this work and his teaching, Gale claims to live a life in service of others. But as he arrogantly struts around campus, imagining himself a modern day Socrates, we realize his primary motivation, much like any Pharisee, is for the public to recognize and applaud his good works. In reality, Gale is a weak, emotionally unstable man, who easily succumbs to lust when a young grad student finds him in a drunken stupor in the bathroom of a party.
(*Interestingly, I’m not sure the filmmakers realize what a pathetic character they’ve drawn, and there’s something instructive about their assumption that the audience will connect with this almost totally corrupt man.)
Then, through a bizarre series of set ups, Gale finds himself out of a job, out of a marriage, and on death row for the murder of his best friend, Constance. Desperate to save at least his name, if not his life, he calls on the help of star journalist, Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) to prove his innocence to the world.
Regardless of one’s feelings on the death penalty, “The Life of David Gale” continually drives home the point that the political activists are right and God is irrelevant, if not downright wrong. Witness the remark of Laura Linney to Kevin Spacey before he’s about to debate a pro-capital punishment governor: “Listen David, he’s going to say that the death penalty is God’s law, you just come back at him with a rational argument.” Clearly, this implies that God’s law is not rational and should be disposed of in favor man’s superior reasoning.
The movie takes a few more cheap shots at Christians like comparing the Bible-believing governor to Hitler, and having a minor character say, “You can always tell you’re in the Bible belt when there are more prisons than Starbucks.” But these things, alone, aren’t what derails this film. Though the performances are outstanding, and some of the artistic direction works, the plot is murky and inconsistent, with holes big enough to march a protest through. Even if I weren’t a Christian reviewer, I still wouldn’t recommend the very heavy-handed “Life of David Gale.”