Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Life of David Gale

MPAA Rating: R for violent images, nudity, language and sexuality.

Reviewed by: Megan Basham

Extremely Offensive
Add to your list?
View your list
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Only
2 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release:
Kevin Spacey in The Life of David Gale, copyright, Universal PicturesKate Winslet in The Life of David Gale, copyright, Universal PicturesThe Life of David Gale, copyright, Universal Pictures

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.”

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—I actually loved this movie! Although I do believe in the death penalty, I thought this movie made anti-death penalty believers look stupid. If a reporter could figure out whether a man was innocent or not, then surely a defense team could prove it as well. To me, the story was not believable but was great entertainment. There are two (one pretty graphic) sex scenes and profanity, but I thought they helped to develop the plot and character, although they really didn’t need to be so graphic. I don’t think this movie will sway someone’s opinion one way or the other on the death penalty issue… since it seemed to me to make a mockery of those who oppose the death penalty by almost making them seem crazy.

This movie is not for children, I wouldn’t take anyone under 18 to see this movie since the themes are very mature, but all in all, I thought that it was filmed and acted very well.
My Ratings: [Somewhat Offensive / 4]
—Diane, age 26
Positive—Please don’t assume that all Christians agree that the death penalty is a good thing. There are many Christians, like myself, who are morally opposed to it. I am getting tired of feeling like I’m not a good Christian just because I’m not a hate-mongering right wing nut obsessed with guns and electric chairs. Besides, why is it so wrong to watch something you don’t agree with? Are you scared you might change your mind? In the future, whenever you review films for a Christian site, please stick to discussing profanity, sex, and violence; leave your politics at home.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
—Jimmy Iha, age 25
Negative—I am a HUGE Kevin Spacey fan, I really am. He’s my favorite actor. That’s why it’s so tough for me to have to dislike his film so much. I am not one who is offended by bad language or violence, I get offended when films are less of films and more PROPAGANDA than anything else. We are supposed to care about these characters, but they won’t let us. They are not really even characters, they function only to serve the political point of the film.

Personally, I don’t know where I stand on the death penalty, and this film didn’t help me figure it out. It doesn’t present two sides of the argument, it simply screams its side at us, and you know, that’s not really why I go to see movies. Present something to me and let me think about it, toil over it, discuss it, don’t jump down my throat with propaganda—it’s a huge turnoff.

Add to that that the film is completely hypocritical. I was so disappointed. The acting is pretty good (with the exception of Kate Winslet), the direction is good, there are some interesting techniques used, and I liked the music… BUT the screenplay is TERRIBLE!! I mean, this seemed more like the first draft of a script that needs serious work before anyone should ever think about making it.

I’m sorry to say it, but I hated this movie.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2]
—Jason Eaken, age 19
Negative—Leave your politics at home? (See comments from Mr. Iha) Mr. Iha is basically saying by this that a person’s position on capital punishment is purely political and couldn’t possibly come from an honest reading of scripture. This is faulty (see Gen. 9:6 for example) and insulting, and so is insinuating that those who support capital punishment are hate-mongering right wing nut[s] obsessed with guns and electric chairs. I respect Mr. Iha’s position regarding capital punishment, but he should refrain from taking shots at Christians just because they disagree with him. 1 Peter 2: 17 says, “love your fellow believers” (TNIV)
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 1]
—Jared White, age 21
Negative—This is also in response to Mr. Iha. It seemed to me that the reviewer’s problem was not so much that the screenwriter did not support the death penalty, as that he tries to cram his point of view down the viewer’s throats. Propaganda generally doesn’t make for a good movie. Take for example many of the propaganda films of WWII. You may have agreed with their message (or not) but it didn’t make them all Oscar winning films.

Also doesn’t it seem odd that Hollywood is against the death penalty, but in favor of abortion? They want to protect the guilty and murder the innocent.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 3]
—Wes Zach, age 23