Kevin Spacey played 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.
David Gale is a professor who is a prisoner 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 is known for her ability to keep secrets and protect her sources. He tells her the story of how he ended up on death row, revealed to the audience through a series of lengthy flashbacks.
Gale is head of the philosophy department at the University of Texas 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 gets him to have sex with her. 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 point to an example of a demonstrably innocent man being executed during that 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 a person who turns out to be Dusty Wright, the 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 it 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 labelled "Off the Record" is delivered to Bloom. This tape picks up at the point where Wright confirmed that Harraway was dead. It continues to show 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 as capable of causing the execution of an innocent man.Kevin Spacey as David Gale
Kate Winslet as Bitsey Bloom
Laura Linney as Constance Harraway
Gabriel Mann as Zack Stemmons
Rhona Mitra as Berlin
Leon Rippy as Braxton Belyeu
Matt Craven as Dusty Wright
Jim Beaver as Duke Grover
Melissa McCarthy as Nico
The Life of David Gale was shot in multiple places, including Huntsville, Texas, Sam Houston State University, The University of Texas at Austin, Garrison Hall, KLRU-TV, Metro Espresso Bar (now Cafe Medici), 2222 Guadalupe St, Cain and Abel's Bar at Austin, Gumbo's Louisiana Style Cafe and Plaça Reial, Barcelona.
The Life of David Gale received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics and has a rating of 19% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 156 reviews with an average score of 4.2 out of 10. The consensus states "Instead of offering a convincing argument against the death penalty, this implausible, convoluted thriller pounds the viewer over the head with its message." The film also has a score of 31 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 36 reviews indicating 'Generally unfavorable reviews.'
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... The last shot made me want to throw something at the screen – maybe Spacey and Parker." Ebert's co-host Richard Roeper, however, did not hesitate to give the film a "thumbs up".
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.