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The Pledge

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Pledge

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Aaron Eckhart
Director: Sean Penn
Rated: R
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: January 2001
Genres: Drama, Suspense

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Director Sean Penn and actor Jack Nicholson, who last collaborated in the over-the-top THE CROSSING GUARD, surprise us this time with THE PLEDGE, a picture of remarkable grace and subtlety. Taking a formula story -- that of a recently retired cop who wants a closed murder case reopened -- it changes the structure, the tone and the events to put fresh spins on old themes.

THE PLEDGE focuses almost exclusively on Jack Nicholson as Detective Jerry Black, although many fine actors show up to turn in nice cameos and supporting parts. Chief among these are Robin Wright Penn, as a scraggly haired, chipped tooth waitress, Helen Mirren, as a reluctantly helpful psychiatrist and Patricia Clarkson, as a dead girl's mother who extracts a pledge from Black to find the killer. The pledge is made on a cross that the girl had constructed herself.

As the story begins, Black leaves his retirement party to help investigate the rape and murder of a second grade girl. Later, much to the consternation of his replacement, Stan Krolak (Aaron Eckhart), Black insists that they've got the wrong man. This belief leads Black on a statewide quest for what he thinks is a serial killer on the loose.

If the first part of the film is more standard issue with the obsessed cop on the prowl for the perp, the second part is a change of pace, as Black retires to a life of fishing. Or is he just lying in wait? Or is it both? What is most unusual about the second half is that the script by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski, based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's book, telegraphs where it is going yet maintains the tension. And, when the story finally gets to the easily guessed destination, the film avoids the most committed sin by screenwriters everywhere -- the obsession with tying up all the loose ends. This, of course, may drive anal-retentive viewers nuts, but it does provide for great post-theater car conversations.

Still, what you will remember a week later isn't the ending. It will be Nicholson's exceptional and atypically reserved performance. His detective doesn't come from some overwrought method acting. Nicholson searches deep down within himself and comes up with a character whose furrowed brow says it all. Black is deeply scarred by the deaths. He has internalized the pain of the victims and their families. This has transformed him into a man driven as if by hidden demons. His worries are made palpable through an intense but delicately nuanced performance by Nicholson. It may not be his very best performance, but it sure is a treat to observe.

THE PLEDGE runs 2:04. It is rated R for strong violence and language and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes

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