The Pledge Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the theatrical release of The Pledge.

A compelling and competent film featuring an all-star cast headed by Jack Nicholson and directed by Sean Penn.

The Pledge draws in its audience by initially setting itself up as a detective thriller, and then slowly mutates into a compelling character study of one man struggling to let go of his inner drives. Jack Nicholson gives one of his best, most subtle performances as Detective Jerry Black, a much-loved cop at his local force. It’s Jerry’s last day before retirement, and he has been given a huge surprise party in his honour. During the party, Jerry is presented with tickets to a luxurious fishing trip as a present from all of his colleagues, although moments later, the party is interrupted by the news that a young girl has been sexually assaulted and murdered. Even though he is on the brink of retirement, Jerry persuades his boss Erik Pollack (Sam Shepherd) to let him take this one last call. After investigation, Jerry interviews a young boy who saw an Indian running from the scene. The Indian is caught, and ‘massaged’ into a confession by Stan Krolak (Aaron Eckhardt), Jerry’s colleague. However, a fracas ensues, and the Indian kills himself by stealing a guard’s firearm. Case closed, but not to Jerry, who after pledging to bring justice for the dead girl’s parents, convinces himself that the Indian was not guilty. This leads to major disruptions in both Jerry’s state of mind, and Jerry’s new life outside of the police force, and could place his newly-found loved ones in unnecessary danger.

The Pledge is certainly not mainstream Hollywood cinema and isn’t extravagant enough to be an art-film. The directing by gifted actor Sean Penn suggests his talents may actually be more suited behind the camera, as The Pledge is as good an example as any of a convincing world contained within in a movie, in which high drama flows from the mundane and the normal. Pace is maintained at a constant throughout, which might cause some cinema-goers to be disappointed, as the film never submits to pandering to the ‘popcorn’ public. The cinematography by twice Oscar winner Chris Menges (The Killing Fields, The Mission) is beautiful by virtue of not being excessive. The skylines are never too striking; the visuals are never self-indulgent.

The cast are fantastic, and you’d struggle to find a non-epic film in which the calibre of actors such as Helen Mirren, Robin Wright-Penn, Harry Dean Stanton, Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Shepherd, Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhardt and Mickey Rourke all appear in brief yet brilliant cameos. Jack Nicholson however, effortlessly steals the show, and he has lost none of his acting skills since his last, Oscar winning performance in As Good As It Gets. Nicholson’s ageing persona and energy-less unease makes the perfect structure for the character of Jerry Black, and the film works because Nicholson delivers the goods.

To conclude, The Pledge is an exceptional film, and even manages to stir up some food for thought during its ambiguous conclusion. It should garner Oscar nominations for Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn, and it most definitely should be seen by anyone desiring more than the formulaic nonsense that Hollywood has thrusted upon us in the summer just gone. The film won’t please the majority, although the minority will be thoroughly satisfied.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Nov 07, 2001

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