The Life of David Gale

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The Life of David Gale
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan Parker
Written byCharles Randolph
Produced by
CinematographyMichael Seresin
Edited byGerry Hambling
Music by
  • Alex Parker
  • Jake Parker
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • February 21, 2003 (2003-02-21) (United States)
  • March 13, 2003 (2003-03-13) (Germany)
  • March 14, 2003 (2003-03-14) (United Kingdom)
Running time
130 minutes[1]
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$38 million[2]
Box office$38.9 million [2]

The Life of David Gale is a 2003 drama film directed by Alan Parker and written by Charles Randolph. The film is an international co-production, between the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. It was Parker's final film before his retirement.

Kevin Spacey plays the eponymous character, a college professor and longtime activist against capital punishment who is sentenced to death for killing a fellow capital punishment opponent; Kate Winslet and Laura Linney co-star. The film was released February 21, 2003. It received negative reviews from critics and grossed just $38.9 million against its $38 million budget.


David Gale is a professor on death row in Texas. With only a few days until his execution, his lawyer negotiates a half-million dollar fee to tell his story to Bitsey Bloom, a journalist from a major news magazine. She has a reputation of keeping secrets and protecting her sources. He tells her how he ended up on death row, revealed through a series of lengthy flashbacks.

Gale is head of the philosophy department at the University of Austin and an active member of DeathWatch, an advocacy group campaigning against capital punishment. At a graduation party, he encounters Berlin, an attractive graduate student who had been expelled from the school. When Gale gets drunk at the party, she seduces him and they have sex. She then falsely accuses Gale of rape. The next day, he loses a televised debate with the Governor of Texas when he is unable to prove a demonstrably innocent man was executed during the governor's term. After losing the debate, Gale is arrested and charged with rape. While the rape charge against Gale is later dropped, the damage had already been done, and his family, marriage, university career and reputation are all destroyed.

Constance Harraway, a fellow DeathWatch activist, is a close friend of Gale who consoles him after his life falls apart, and the pair have sex. However, the next day, Harraway is discovered raped and murdered, suffocated by a plastic bag taped over her head. An autopsy reveals that she had been forced to swallow the key to the handcuffs used to restrain her, a psychological torture technique used by the Securitate under the communist regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu, which Gale and Harraway had both protested against. The physical evidence at the crime scene points to Gale, who is convicted of rape and murder and is sentenced to death.

In the present, Bloom investigates the case in between her visits with Gale. She comes to believe that the apparent evidence against Gale does not add up. She is tailed several times in her car by Dusty Wright, an alleged one-time lover and colleague of Harraway, who she suspects was the real killer. Wright slips evidence to Bloom that suggests Gale has been framed, implying that the actual murderer videotaped the crime. Bloom pursues this lead until she finds a tape revealing that Harraway, who was suffering from terminal leukemia, had committed an elaborate suicide made to look like murder. Wright is seen on the videotape, acting as her accomplice, implying that they framed Gale as part of a plan to discredit the death penalty by conspiring to execute an innocent person, and subsequently releasing evidence of the actual circumstances.

Once Bloom and her aide find this evidence, only hours remain until Gale's scheduled execution. She tries to give the tape to the authorities in time to stop the execution. She arrives at the Huntsville Unit just as the warden announces that the execution has been carried out. The tape is subsequently released, causing a media and political uproar over the execution of an innocent man. Later, Wright receives the fee that Bloom's magazine agreed to pay for the interview, and delivers it to Gale's ex-wife in Spain, along with a postcard from Berlin in San Francisco apologizing, all but confessing that the rape accusation that derailed Gale's life and career was false. His ex-wife looks distraught, knowing Gale told the truth and that she effectively stole their child away from him.

Much later still, a videotape labeled "Off the Record" is delivered to Bloom. This tape picks up at the point where Wright confirmed that Harraway was dead. It continues, showing him stepping aside to allow Gale, also present and party to the suicide, to caress the body of his lover, deliberately leaving his fingerprints on the plastic bag in the process. He then stands up and ends the recording, leaving Bloom stunned with the truth that the couple deliberately sacrificed themselves to discredit capital punishment.



The Life of David Gale was shot in multiple places, including several notable locations in Austin, Barcelona, and Huntsville, Texas, such as Sam Houston State University, Ellis Unit, The University of Texas at Austin, and Plaça Reial.[3]


On Rotten Tomatoes The Life of David Gale holds an approval rating of 19% based on 157 reviews, with an average rating of 4.4/10. The critics consensus reads, "Instead of offering a convincing argument against the death penalty, this implausible, convoluted thriller pounds the viewer over the head with its message."[4] At Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 31 out of 100, on based on 36 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[5] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.[6]

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film a rare zero stars and stated in his review "I am sure the filmmakers believe their film is against the death penalty. I believe it supports it and hopes to discredit the opponents of the penalty as unprincipled fraudsters.… Spacey and Parker are honorable men. Why did they go to Texas and make this silly movie? The last shot made me want to throw something at the screen – maybe Spacey and Parker."[7] Ebert's At the Movies co-host Richard Roeper positively reviewed the film calling it "A dazzling mess."[4]


The soundtrack (composed by Alex and Jake Parker) has been used in various film trailers, specifically the tracks "The Life of David Gale" and "Almost Martyrs". The score has been used in the trailers for World Trade Center, Munich, In the Valley of Elah, Milk, The Artist and The Iron Lady.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 2002-12-23. Retrieved 2012-11-29.
  2. ^ a b The Life of David Gale at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "Universal Pictures' 'The Life of David Gale,' Directed by Alan Parker and Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet And Laura Linney, Begins Principal Photography in Texas". PR Newswire. Cision. November 16, 2001. Archived from the original on November 19, 2001. Retrieved June 9, 2019 – via
  4. ^ a b "The Life of David Gale". Rotten Tomatoes.
  5. ^ "The Life of David Gale Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2016-09-06.
  6. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Life of" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 21, 2003). "Reviews: The Life Of David Gale".

External links[edit]