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The Pledge Review

By Joe Lozito

Jack and Being Stalked


Someone needs to assure Sean Penn that he's a good filmmaker. Throughout his third film, "The Pledge," he still appears to be out to prove something the way a fledgling director would. Every shot is composed to within an inch of its life, every scene is set-up perfectly and each actor entertains his or her own internal "method" to give the best performance possible. Obviously, none of these things are bad. But they do tend to amount to a ponderous and less-than-fulfilling movie.

Mr. Penn has always shown himself to be an actor's director, eliciting fine performances from his typically quality casts. In the case of "The Pledge", Mr. Penn surrounds leading man Jack Nicholson with Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave and, of course, his omni-present wife Robin Wright Penn. Perhaps none of them fares so well as Mickey Rourke (yes, Mickey Rourke!) in a short, but memorable cameo as a grieving father. Those may be his best five minutes ever put on film.

In a nutshell, that may be the problem with the film. It contains many great scenes that don't add up to a satisfying whole. The story, based on the book by Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt, follows retired detective Jerry Black (Mr. Nicholson) as he devotes the remainder of his life to making good on his promise to a grief-stricken mother: to find her daughter's killer. The pledge scene itself is slightly over-the-top and contains a few too many religious overtones. But the best scenes in the film concentrate on Jerry and his descent into madness over his quest.

Mr. Nicholson gives his best performance in years in his best role in years. He thankfully drops the "cool Jack" veneer of "As Good As It Gets" and plays down his mythically famous eyebrows. What's left is a man wrestling with loneliness and regret at the end of his life. His pledge, his mission, gives him something to focus his life on, but in doing so he loses touch with the reality at hand.

The film builds to an ambiguous, "Twilight Zone" style climax which leaves several interesting questions for the audience to ponder. However, those old TV shows were suitably only a half hour long, while "The Pledge" seems to go on for a half hour too long. At the end of which, the audience may not be interested in pondering the answers.

What did you think?

Movie title The Pledge
Release year 2001
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Director Sean Penn's trademark self-indulgence overwhelms this dark, cynical meditation on aging and obsession, which features a welcomed vulnerable performance by Jack Nicholson.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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