The Pledge

Drive and obsession are at the center of The Pledge, based on the book by Friedrich Durrenmatt and directed by Sean Penn. Penn (Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard) purposely keeps things ambiguous and refuses to answer questions. This places the entire burden of carrying the film into the capable hands of Jack Nicholson. Nicholson (As Good As It Gets, The Evening Star) is Jerry Black, a retired policeman who cannot keep a murder investigation out of his mind. Why does he continue? Is it because he made a solemn promise to the mother of a murder victim? Or is it because he refuses to give up his profession and succumb to a more sedate life of retirement?

The call comes in during Black's retirement party. He leaves in order to investigate the brutal death of a young girl. The investigation turns up a Native American, but Black feels he is not the murderer. He is the only one. The investigation ends, and Black goes unhappily into retirement. The entire time, clues left behind by the victim trouble and puzzle him. He has a drawing depicting a tall man she called 'the wizard' and told a friend he gave her little porcupines. Further investigation turns up similar murders from the past, and he fears that another one will occur. Still, his ex-colleagues do not believe him, and he begins to settle in his new life.

Black buys a small gas station and meets waitress Lori (Robin Wright Penn, Unbreakable, Message in a Bottle) and her daughter Chrissy (Pauline Roberts). Here, the elements that make Jerzy and Mary-Olson Kromolowski's screenplay realistic also help The Pledge become a little tedious. Time passes and Black slowly begins acclimating to fishing and owning a store. A lot of time passes; one could argue too much time. Penn uses this to show that no matter what he does, Black still has the murder in the back of his mind. Small clues interrupt long stretches of time. When he begins putting additional clues together, he believes that the murder may occur in the very near future. His obsession with finding the killer might even go as far as using Chrissy for bait.

Penn and Nicholson effectively show the moral dilemma that Black goes through. Regardless of what happens, he always goes back to the murder. Both explanations of his continuing interest in the case are plausible. A glimpse of the victim's parents is enough to give him deep guilt. At the same time, his actions show that he is not comfortable with retirement. He is having trouble dealing with not working. Nicholson's portrayal is more mental than physical. Everything is happening within his mind. It comes out in the way he speaks and reacts to situations, and it is enough to cover much of the drawn out nature of the film. The ending is kind of a letdown, but still fits in with Penn's purpose. The bleak, snow-covered Nevada setting helps give The Pledge a forlorn, futile feeling to it, in more ways than one.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 2 minutes, Rated R for violence and language.

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