The Life Of David Gale (2003)

(In theaters, February 2003) For a while, I was nearly taken by this film. It starts with an interesting conceit, okay characters and a first third in which it’s possible to discern some intellectual/philosophical depth. Plus, Kevin Spacey is almost always a pleasure to watch even when (like in here) he shamelessly overacts and gives a smarmy edge to whatever role he’s playing. But what becomes more and more obvious as the film progresses is that it will stop at nothing to wring out suspense out of situations that don’t have any. The discovery of the first tape is an example; the second visit to the crime scene is another. Suddenly, you may start asking questions about the plot, and it’s an exercise that’s almost always fatal to such a thinly-plotted story like this. Whether it’s an ominous cowboy or a cell phone that doesn’t work or a car that breaks down, The Life Of David Gale transforms itself from a decent “issues” drama to a cheap thriller. And if you haven’t been paying attention, the wretched conclusion will drive home the point that this film doesn’t make sense. Not from an internal logic viewpoint (the ending nullifies what the “heroes” have tried to accomplish) and not from an external thematic viewpoint either (whatever message the film had, if it had one, got lost in the plot mechanics). Sure, it has a dramatic inertia that keeps it bearable… but this is the type of film that gives “twist ending” a bad name.

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