Despite the solid cast, this rather preposterous thriller never really clicks or excites, whilst its big twists and contrivances keep spiralling downward into rather ridiculous territory. Much like "Vanilla Sky", the first act is actually an interesting bit of filmmaking but the other two are just woeful pieces of junk which are amongst the most blatant attempts you'll ever see at manipulating an audience's emotion - if it was an intelligently penned story we might not mind so much but the script sadly lacks that heft. Alan Parker's hamhanded direction doesn't help either - everything is clearly spelled out to the point that practically all the story's tension is robbed, whilst its anti-capital punishment stance is forced down our throats to the point even advocates will get pissed.
Spacey's sheer talent helps give weight to a character whose interesting at first but quickly falls into dumb actions which a man of his intelligence would know better than to step into. Indeed Spacey in many ways is miscast, the role requires someone which an audience can sympathise with on a more effective level than what is done here. Laura Linney also channels her class and poise into a hardliner supporting character and admittedly does some pretty brazen stuff for the camera, but her character is left short-handed by the story - same excuse can't be used for Kate Winslet who goes overboard here in her role. Gabriel Mann is decent but forgettable as her somewhat ballsy tag-along assistant.
From the Texas setting to the very limited time period in which the action takes place, there's a false sense of pace here. It's quite clear we're being pushed into thinking along certain lines not by the setup of the story, but more by the all too convenient and lazily handled Hollywood elements and that robs any credibility this 'desperate to be authentic' tale has. By the time the mystery is solved and of course following the ubiquitous numerous endings twist, you just don't care anymore. A nifty score and some few moments of clever insight (such as Spacey's uni lecture speech) aren't enough to hold this uncollected trash together.