You know you're in the middle of the Bible Belt when there's more prisons in sight than Starbucks coffee shops. Deep in the heart of Texas there's nothing they like better than taking an eye for an eye and frying their convicted murderers with enough prune juice to light up the Eastern Seaboard. But, let's face it, the death penalty is the kind of Big Issue that Hollywood rarely manages to tackle without either getting mushy (The Green Mile), self-righteous (Dead Man Walking) or completely ridiculous (The Chamber).
Fortunately, The Life Of David Gale gives the usual death-row drama a slightly different spin. Former professor David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is an anti-capital punishment activist who's convicted of murder and (oh, the irony) sentenced to sit in the big chair himself. Desperate to prove his innocence, he calls on hard-nosed reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) to tell his story.
Part thriller, part message movie and part acting showcase, David Gale ends up doing all three things rather well. Helmed by Brit Alan Parker - a director whose ability to thump tubs often rivals Oliver Stone's - it was never going to be subtle, but at least it's smart, the thorny issues presented through intelligent dialogue.
Of course, it helps when you have actors of this calibre as mouthpieces. Admittedly, Spacey turns in yet another of his brooding performances, while Winslet is forced to run around like Nancy Drew, but put them face to face and the sparks fly - even with a layer of prison plexiglass between them. The other performances are also plucked from the top drawer, with relative newcomer Gabriel Mann especially eye-catchingas Bitsey's intern.
Okay, so the supposedly slippery plot twists are all too readable, and the story collapses like a house of cards if poked at, but this is an enjoyable drama that offers plenty to think about.