The first thing I want to say is: WOW!
The next thing I want to say is: this 2002 film should have been awarded at least ONE Oscar (if not more) , be it for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress.
This is a powerful, gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller . It has a sensational script, one of the best ever. There is an enormous amount of suspense but it also talks about socially relevant crimes and the way it is told is smart, intelligent and thoughful. It is a smart, good script on many levels: Not only in the dialogue, the character development, the arc of the story, the pacing of the story, the times at which things are revealed, but also in that it is incredibly taut and sharp and beautiful and witty and clever. It combines art with commerce with politics; it is fun, exciting, interesting and has something to say.
The story revolves around the execution of former philosophy professor David Gate (Kevin Spacey) of his 1994 conviction for the rape and murder of his university colleague Constance Harraway (Laura Linney). The case has received nationwide media attention because David and Constance were activists for DeathWatch, a nonprofit abolitionist organisation.
David, a major intellectual ( Harvard University, Rhodes scholar, tenured at 27, two books published) asks to meet Bitsy Bloom (Kate Winslet), a reporter at News Magazine famous for protecting sexual deviants, through his attorney Braxton Belyeu (Leon Kippy). He wants to be remembered as much for how he led his life and the decisions that he made as for how his life ended. Most of all, he wants her to save his son’s memory of his father.
Kevin Spacey is simply fantastic. He is equally convincing as a professor, a loving father, an alcoholic, a death row inmate and a friend. When he tells Bitsy: “There comes a point in life, a moment, when your mind outlives its desires, its obsessions… Maybe death is a gift. By this time tomorrow I’m dead. I know when. But I just can’t say why. You have 24 hours to find out.” – This is one of the most touching scenes in the film; I couldn’t help but sniffle (but not sob) with Bitsy! When he talks about the stages of Kubler-Ross, the stages that the dying go through: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance, it sends a powerful message. Would he be an unwitting matryr who may achieve in death what he worked for but could not accomplish in life?
Other wonderful scenes include: how the choice of David’s last meal is exactly the same request from his young son for their last breakfast together; how Puccini’s opera Turandot is weaved into the plot by connecting it to another minor but crucial character that serves as an important link in the story.
There is such conspiracy and deception in the plot that the unpredictable final twist is simply, for want of a better word, mind-blowing! I shall definitely find out more about the other films directed by Alan Parker. Perhaps they are of the same high quality!