Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is an ace reporter for a New York-based magazine who is known for her professional integrity and tenacity. She recently spent seven days in prison for refusing to reveal her sources for a story. Her reputation has come to the attention of David Gale (Kevin Spacey), a convicted murderer who is scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas in four days. For $500,000 he is willing to talk to her, the only interview he has given since his arrest. Bloom and a magazine intern, Zack Stemmons (Gabriel Mann), head to Huntsville, Texas, in pursuit of this big story. Gale's lawyer Braxton Belyeu (Leon Rippy) meets them at the prison and leaves her for the first of three two-hour interviews with his client.
The man seated across from her behind protective glass is a graduate of Harvard, a Rhodes scholar, the author of two books on philosophy, and the former head of his department at a Texas university. Gale recounts how Berlin (Rhona Mitra), a sexy graduate student, throws herself at him while he's in a drunken stupor at a party and they have rough sex in the bathroom. When she later claims he raped her, he loses his job and his wife moves to Europe, taking their six-year-old son with her. Gale's drinking problem worsens, and he descends into loneliness and depression.
His only support comes from Constance (Laura Linney), a colleague and the local leader of Death Watch, a nonprofit group dedicated to abolishing the death penalty. She's a little miffed at him over his poor performance on a television debate over capital punishment with the governor of Texas. But they are true soul-mates in their mission to save the lives of those on death row who have not received adequate representation or have been victims of miscarriages of justice. But both David and Constance are burnt-out after a long string of losses in their efforts to open people's eyes to the insanity and barbarity of capital punishment.
Alan Parker directs this suspenseful and thought-provoking drama based on a screenplay by Charles Randolph. He has made three previous films on justice issues: Midnight Express (1978), Mississippi Burning (1988) and Come See the Paradise (1990). To those portraits of the victims of injustice, he now adds this film about the effect of the fight upon justice seekers. The screenplay does include some persuasive speeches about their cause by David and Constance. But the real story is in what their zeal has done to them.
As Bitsey listens to David's story she becomes convinced that he is innocent of the crime for which he is to be executed the rape and murder of Constance in 1994. Was his framed? Certainly, the two of them had plenty of enemies amongst the defenders of capital punishment who saw them as crazy liberals. In one of the interviews with Bloom, Gale breaks down recalling how he found out that Constance was dying of leukemia. He adds: "She left this world a better place than she found it. It's a small but difficult thing." As for Gale, he just wants his son to know who his father really was.
Although The Life of David Gale lacks the emotional focus and spiritual clout of Dead Man Walking, it does present a thought-provoking portrait of two zealous activists who are willing to do anything to stop the juggernaut of executions in America. The key to unlocking the powerful moral message of the film is in one of the Gale's classroom lectures. He asserts: "The only way to measure the significance of our lives is by valuing the lives of others."