Although Gary Gilmore had a pitiful life, it was enough of an American story gone bad to give Normal Mailer a platform for a grand, strange, utterly compelling book: The Executioner's Song
, published in 1979. Mailer's literary collaborator, Lawrence Schiller, made the book into a TV-movie (with Mailer scripting), a landmark for its frankness and the general excellence of its acting. Gilmore is brought to vivid life by Tommy Lee Jones, who electrified audiences with his insightful work (this, coming shortly after Coal Miner's Daughter
, was one of the roles that really put Jones on the map). Even more revelatory was Rosanna Arquette, virtually unknown at the time, whose role as Gilmore's girlfriend and "guardian angel" instantly put her on the A-list. The heat the two actors generate goes a long way toward establishing their unholy bond, credibility the film absolutely needs in order to work; watch them in an early scene where Gilmore describes the mystical nature of their connection, and you see two actors working at an uncanny level. The approach overall is plain, but that might be why the movie is so effective. This version, advertised as the "Director's Cut," is a curious amalgam of the movie's other versions; the original U.S. TV cut, which stretched out over two nights, and a European cut that included nudity and unexpurgated language. This one is 135 minutes long, has the language, but not the nudity--a swifter-moving entity than either of the previous films. It can't really be called a definitive issue, although the power of the material still comes through. --Robert Horton
Tommy Lee Jones, Rosanna Arquette. The debate over capital punishment rages on with the story of Gary Mark Gilmore, the first man to be executed after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Jones turns in an Emmy-winning performance as Gilmore, who insists that his execution by firing squad be carried out. Based on Norman Mailer's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. 1982/color/3 hrs., 8 min/NR/fullscreen.