Directed by Alan Parker, starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet and Laura Linney.

David Gale (Spacey): academic, human rights campaigner, alcoholic, death row inmate. Convicted of murdering activist and friend Constance Harraway (Linney), Gale has three days until his execution and a wish that investigative journalist Bitsey Bloom (Winslet) should hear his story.

While Bloom is interested in the high profile exclusive, she sees Gale as just another cover and travels to Texas convinced of his guilt. But once she meets him, Gale becomes a person and she wonders whether the case is as airtight as the authorities and media have made out.

Parker's ability to duck and weave through genres has been a hallmark of his career and here he tries to bring extra weight to the conventions of the legal thriller. But despite some powerful scenes and the constant worry of the ticking clock, '...Gale' is a disappointment.

While 'Mississippi Burning' showed Parker's ability to balance a cause with the commercial, the deeper we get into the story here, the less focus there seems to be on the issue of the death penalty. Parker can argue that for a country as divided as the US, there's no point trying to sway capital punishment advocates by hitting them over the head with a film. But you get the feeling there could have been more of a debate as Gale continues his countdown - especially when most of the audience will be convinced of his innocence from the start.

What the film does do however, is put a story on a prison number and in Spacey's performance as Gale has a strong example of how someone's life can just go off the rails. Without grandstanding, he portrays a man who had it all but was losing it in ever increasing increments long before he stood in front of judge and jury. The flashbacks of his life are filled with that sense of both curiosity and dread and actually work far better than when the film reverts to real time.

The letdown in the present is that there isn't enough chemistry between Spacey and Winslet, with their scenes never having the power as those involving him and Linney. The longer you watch, the more you'll think the casting was messed up and that Winslet should've played Constance with Linney perfect for the role of hardbitten hack.

The film's close continues the TV movie feel running through the whole story, but just when you're convinced you can go home a better detective, Parker pulls a twist that is so audacious you'll think the chairs in the cinema should've had seatbelts attached. It will turn your perceptions of what you've seen completely around, but it's not convincing and plays out like the effort of someone trying to make a predictable film become the exact opposite.

It's still worth seeing for Spacey and Linney but you'll spend more time arguing about the finale than you will about the issue behind it.

Harry Guerin