Any reporter would jump at the chance to record the final, unfolding thoughts of a dying life, and Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is no exception. Although she is suspicious as to why Texas death-row inmate David Gale (Kevin Spacey) specifically requested her. Is it her reporter reputation as “Mike Wallace with PMS”? Maybe it’s her great sense of responsibility, even to sexual degenerates, having just spent time in jail protecting her kiddie-porn sources. Whatever the reason, she first faces him convinced that Gale — with a previous rape conviction under his belt — raped and murdered Constance Harraway (Laura Linney), Gale’s fellow activist against capital punishment.
Alan Parker is no novice, having directed movies that sear, like Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning and Pink Floyd: The Wall, but it’s not the direction here so much as the story premise itself that holds the great fault line. It’s easy to see where writer Charles Randolph, originally from Texas, got his ideas. The tale is set in the Texas Bible Belt, which has more churches than Starbuck’s, in a state that leads the country in executions (and Texas really does — in 2002, fully half of all United States executions took place in the Lone Star State).
Professor Randolph penned his screenplay while teaching philosophy at a Vienna university. His main character, Gale, is a Lacan-quoting intellectual in Texas and fights against capital punishment in his spare time because he believes in the value of life. It seems that Randolph knew what was supposed to be in the story, but not how to connect the pieces together in meaning. Any dialectic concerning the ethical-moral issues of execution is overridden and undermined when the Hollywood murder-mystery formula takes the front seat. Like Bitsey, we’re forced into a misinterpretation so that the film can up the dramatic ante. Tailed by mysterious opera-loving cowboys and hounded by VHS terrorists who hang videotapes in her hotel room, Bitsey is driven into an absurd re-enactment of the crime.
Although Spacey and Winslet have proved themselves in the past, here these Academy-recognized pros waste their talents while falling prey to a script with flawed intentions.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.