Genre:  Drama, Suspense

Rating:  R (for violent images, nudity, language and sexuality)

Release Date:  February 21, 2003

Actors:  Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Rhona Mitra, Leon Rippy, Matt Craven, Chris Warner

Director:  Alan Parker

Special Notes:  Nicolas Cage produced this movie with Alan Parker.

Plot:  David Gale (Spacey) is a devoted and loving father, even though his wife has been having an affair on him for several months.  He has struggled to take care of his child while still managing to be a popular professor with his students and a respected death penalty opponent who is known for living by his principles.  David's world is radically disrupted when he finds himself convicted of murder and on death row for the rape and murder of his best friend and fellow-activist Constance Hallaway (Linney).  Despite the fact that the facts don't add up, Gale spends years on death row in silence until finally, with only three days left before his scheduled execution, he agrees to give a facts-hungry reporter, Elizabeth "Bitsey" Bloom (Winslet), an exclusive interview.  Bitsey soon realizes that discovering the truth to this story is more than she was ready for, and with only a few days to get the facts, a man's life is in her hands and she has to put the missing pieces of the murder together. Frantically she races with her partner (Stemmons) to piece together the shocking events surrounding Constance's death and reveal the truth before it's too late.

Good:  This is an interesting murder mystery that relies on a surprise ending with a shocking twist to make it worth wading through the anti-death penalty propaganda and lengthy fact-building beginning (it's still only 130 minutes but feels longer).  Spacey is brilliant in these kind of roles because he can play the creepy I've-got-a-secret character with a smirk that makes you distrust him, or turn around and elicit pity and compassion with an innocent victimized whine that confirms he's innocent. He plays both sides in this role incredibly.  Hats off to Winslet who departs from her usual kinky/strange roles to play a confident and cocky reporter who is (for the most part) smart (except for one of those makes-no-sense scenes where she sits there wasting time while watching a video she's already scene, and minutes tick by that will end a man's life).  Her character goes through a humbling experience with Gale that makes her a better person in the end, and she definitely knows how to cry on cue.  Linney is likewise perfect as an advocate against the death penalty who takes a dark secret to her death.  This is a dramatic, well-done story that is slow to start with but picks up speed in the middle and is riveting during the last 15 minutes.  It is a movie that is sometimes hard to watch (because of the cruelty of the crime), but manages to make its dramatic point about capital punishment in an unusual "only in-Hollywood" way.

Bad:  This is one of those films that has several elements that will offend people on different levels.  It has strong and offensive language, nudity (a woman's murdered body is shown on video and in photos, nude, with her hands handcuffed behind her back and her head covered in a plastic bag), sexual situations, and suspense.  The hardest part is watching a video over and over again of how a woman dies by strangulation.  But in the end, it amazingly manages to make sense.  There's a sexual situation that takes place in a bathroom with Gale and a college student that is intense and also some strong dialogue and intense discovery scenes.  At first this movie took a while to get into and was hard to watch.  I have to admit, my political stance on the death penalty was challenged and irritated by this movie.  The fact that the story takes place in Texas and uses a Bush look-and-sound-alike actor to play the governor who defends the Texas death penalty stance kind of bothered me.  Of course the whole intent of this movie is to prove that the death penalty is wrong and that innocent men (and women) die.  And of course there's the underlying "unspoken" liberal slam at making people who defend the death penalty look right-wing, ignorant, and foolish.  Funny how the people who are opponents of the death penalty come off looking intelligent and (ultimately) correct.  This is one of those situations that if I discuss the movie's merits and downfalls to the extent that I would like to (and need to), it will give away the ending.  So, I can't and won't do that.  But even in the end, if you analyze what was done and how and why it was done, there is still a crime and there's definitely a guilty party.  So…was the point against the death penalty really made?  You will have to be the judge of that.

Bottom Line:  This is not an easy movie to sit through because of the depressing subject, sad situations, repeated shots of a nude woman suffocating to death, and dramatic plot.  But it does make you think about the death penalty and forces you to come to a stance or conclusion on that subject by the time the last scene is shown.  Although I feel the ending went a little too unreal and ended up being one of those "only in Hollywood" movies, the message still ended up being interesting and challenging...even if it wasn't politically or morally correct.