The Pledge (2001) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 124 min.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Benicio Del Toro, Dale Dickey, Aaron Eckhart
Director: Sean Penn
Screenplay: Jerzy Kromolowski, Mary Olson-Kromolowski
Review published February 20, 2003
The Pledge follows an aging Nevada homicide detective (Nicholson, As Good As It Gets), days from retirement, who investigates a child murder in the snows of the nearby hills. He vows to find the murderer to the parents of the little girl, and a suspect is caught but kills himself shortly after confession. This would have sewn up the case, but something sticks in the detective's craw about it, and he begins to suspect that the murder may have been one of a series of murders unrelated to the man who confessed. In retirement, he goes in search of the real killer, convinced that the man he is looking for is of one in a picture drawn by the dead child in school.
The Pledge is a tough film to watch. It has a leisurely pace, unconventional twists and turns, and an ending that refuses to satisfy. Yet, the film does manage to become absorbing in its own way, never letting us on as to whether Nicholson is really onto something or if it's all a delusion in the mind of an aging and stressed-out ex-cop.
Sean Penn (The Crossing Guard, The Indian Runner) makes this a sort-of anti-thriller, creating events more for character study than for thrills, and Nicholson does play the part of a man on the edge as well as anyone in the history of cinema. It's a film many viewers won't have patience with, and perhaps many who watch the film in its entirety will feel cheated that a sense of closure was not achieved, but I found it to be a fascinating tale unlike any I've seen, and while not a crowd pleaser in the way Hannibal tries to be, it actually maintains a better atmosphere of haunting. As disturbing a film as you're likely to watch, but effective, because that's what it tries to be.
©2003 Vince Leo