Obvious Life: If you can't figure it out, well...
Alfred Hitchcock used to tell the audience everything and trust their intelligence and imagination to generate the suspense. In The Life of David Gale, Alan Parker tells the audience almost everything and trusts their stupidity to keep them from guessing the rest.
My skill at solving mysteries is like this: If there are only two characters and one of them is dead, I've got a 50-50 chance of guessing who did it. So when I anticipated the denouement about halfway through this picture, the only thing that held my interest through the second half was the possibility that I could be wrong. I wasn't.
There may be a decent hour-long drama buried in this movie that runs more than twice that long. The leisurely pace gives you too much time to think and allows clues to be repeated in case you missed them the first time. There's also time for red herrings and clichés, things like car trouble and a race to cross in front of a train.
Our first clue that we're in for a long sit comes in the setup. Except for a few shots in a newscast, we don't see Kevin Spacey's title character for over 15 minutes. By then we know he's on death row in Texas, set to be executed in four days for rape and murder.
We also know David Gale was a philosophy professor and an activist fighting to abolish capital punishment, and that he's agreed to give his first (and probably last) interview to New York magazine writer Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet). Her editor sends an intern, Zack Stemmons (Gabriel Mann), along for protection or something (actually for romantic teasing and to keep her from talking to herself).
The interview takes place over three days, ending the day before the scheduled execution. While Bitsey is initially convinced of Gale's guilt, he tells her on the second day he's counting on her to prove his innocence. So in addition to the mystery of who killed Gale's fellow activist Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney), there's the thriller aspect of whether Bitsey can stop the execution. (Clint Eastwood's True Crime was a better example of this genre.)
The first sign that things are going to be more obvious than they should comes in early flashbacks, when Gale is seduced by Berlin (Rhona Mitra), a flirtatious student he's already rejected. She's obviously setting him up for a rape charge, which costs him his career and his family.
In the present, where Bitsey and Zack are apparently being stalked by an opera lover in a cowboy hat and a pickup truck, they visit the murder scene which has been turned into a tourist attraction by an enterprising punkette.
Gasps during the final shot at a preview screening indicated not everyone had guessed the secrets of The Life of David Gale and the death of Constance Hallaway. I'm not saying you're an idiot if you don't, but you'll feel like one if you see the picture a second time and realize how many times you were hit over the head with the truth.
Another frustrating thing about the movie is that it exploits the hot-button issue of capital punishment without really taking a stand either way. At the end both sides can claim victory.
The acting is about as good as you'd expect from Spacey, Winslet and Linney, none of them doing anything they haven't done before. The attention-getters are further down in the cast, with Gabriel Mann and Rhona Mitra emerging as potential sex symbols. Mann ultimately wears out his welcome, having too much screen time and too little to do, but this mustachioed brunet is an improvement over his former wimpy blond look.
It's possible to know an ending in advance and enjoy watching the story play out, but not when the storytellers are so obviously pleased with their own cleverness that they forget to give the plot any other reason for being.