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The Pledge

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Benicio del Toro, Michael O’Keefe, and Sam Shepard
Directed By: Sean Penn
Rated: R
Running Time: 123 minutes

Okay everyone, first a disclaimer. I’ve always struggled with reading movie reviews because I often feel the review discloses too much about the movie. However, as I began to write this review, I realized how difficult it is to actually write a review that won’t reveal too much. So, bear with me as I evaluate “The Pledge” and know that I’ve tried very hard not to spoil anything for you. That said, here we go.

At first sight, the film seems to be the typical Hollywood thriller movie. Some patrols, a strong detective character, and a murder. Ready for the riddles and the final chase? Is there any other logical conclusion? Fortunately for movie viewer, yes. In, “The Pledge,” Sean Penn goes far beyond the creepy music, sudden-cut scenes, and drippy blood that we have seen in several murder-type films over the past few years. Instead, he presents us with a complex thriller framework in which Nicholson is able to give life to one of his best characterizations. “The Pledge” is based in on a Swiss novel by Friedrich Durrenmatt, and its screenplay is by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski.

In this movie Nicholson plays the role of Jerry Black, a retiring Reno police officer who is no simple cop. He’s one mad hatter and in his mind, he’s struggling through his various roles as a lover, a father, and a cop who’s just retired. What brings him back out of his recent retirement is his promise to the mother of a murdered child that he will capture her killer and in no time, all his energy is devoted to this purpose even though the case has been closed. This dynamic gives rise to the complexity and fragility of the human mind, and as such, Penn is able to make us travel through the transformation inside Black’s head as he searches for the child’s true killer. Nicholson, of course, performs to perfection, smoothing the ride of displaying a serene and in control character. In fact, if you loved Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets,” you’ll love him here as well, in an equally complex but different character.

One will find several known names in the cast. With that, it is natural to expect that the film portrays a balanced selection of characters appearing repeatedly through the film. What occurs however, is not that. Penn uses this wonderful cast to create juicy scenes in which each person consistently performs at the level showed by Nicholson. It is quite strange these days to find such good interpretations in small support roles, and it’s really worth it to take note of these when watching the movie. In fact, be sure to pay special attention to Benicio del Toro’s interpretation as the Indian guy. I think the only one who fails in such quality acting is Margaret Larsen (you’ll know what I mean if you see the movie.) Her role is clearly exaggerated and somewhat detracting. Nonetheless, watch for a beautiful scene on a turkey farm. I won’t say more, I promise!

The centrality of Nicholson in this movie is reinforced with the many well-designed one-on-one scenes. The structure is consistent with the film’s overall objective, which is to portray a man who is being chased by his own mind while on a voyage into the unknown parts of himself. That said, “The Pledge” is a must see movie. Penn, in his third role as a director, demonstrates his desire to create independent movies, and this time, he’s packaged it under a major film label. Hex rating, for whatever it’s worth, 3.5 out of 4.

February 20, 2001
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