I left the theater after seeing Jack Nicholson's new movie feeling a little conflicted. On the one hand, I had enjoyed almost everything about the film, so I should have been feeling pretty good, right? On the other hand, the people behind me exclaiming "What an awful movie!" weren't too far off themselves. That's about where The Pledge leaves you.
Jack plays a Reno detective on his last day on the job. He is, of course, having a hard time dealing with the idea of retirement and getting older. Within a few hours of quitting time, he gets himself involved in the case of a little girl who has been horribly raped and murdered. This always seems to happen in Hollywood. What ever happened to goofing off on your last day and then cutting out early? Anyway, Jack makes a promise to the mother of the little girl to find the killer and that's what basically sets the plot off. I don't want to reveal too many details, because part of the fun of a movie like this is trying to second guess and figure out who the killer is beforehand. Suffice it to say that it's not an easy case for Jack to wrap up.
Nicholson is excellent in this role. I was pleasantly surprised at this, because half the time it seem like these screen legends just walk through their later roles. Have anyone seen Charleton Heston do any acting since Planet of the Apes? What about Jack Palance? Yeah, he was good in City Slickers, but he was really just goofing off. Jack Nicholson doesn't seem to do that. He was great in As Good As It Gets and he's great here. Maybe it's because he's such a character in real life. The rest of the cast is also excellent. Robin Wright Penn does a great job as Nicholson's love, although I can't figure out why all these thirty-something women are finding sixty-something Nicholson so attractive. First Helen Hunt, and now Robin Wright. She and Jack are really the only major players in this film. The rest of the cast is filled out with what basically amount to cameos from a very eclectic group of actors. Mickey Rourke, Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Shepherd, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Noonan, and Benecio Del Toro all play their parts perfectly. Of these, I think I was most impressed with Del Toro as a mentally handicapped indian. He's gotten a lot of press lately because of his role in Traffic, but I've enjoyed him since The Usual Suspects. Don't be surprised to see him win an Oscar this time.
Jack Nicholson, Aaron Eckhart and Sam Shepard in Warner Brothers' The Pledge - 2001
One thing that I liked about this film that other people might have trouble with is the pacing. I wouldn't say it was slow, but it does take it's time. The whole thing takes place over about two years. I know some of the people in the theater were getting antsy, but not me. I'm sick of these overly complicated plots that get completely wrapped up in a blaze of glory over the course of a week or two. Kiss The Girls was an enjoyable movie, but how long did it take them to catch the killer after Morgan Freeman joined the team? Three days, maybe four? That just doesn't make any sense. This movie made sense, and was about more than just catching the killer. It had substance and didn't feel the need to rush to a ridiculous conclusion. Along with the pacing, Pledge has beautiful cinematography. Filmed mostly in northern California, watching this movie makes you want to go for a long fishing trip in the mountains. It was mesmerizing. Just about the only fault I found with Pledge is the scene that the title is taken from. It seemed a little forced, like the filmmakers were really trying make sure you didn't miss the significance. Ok, ok. I get it; he promised on his salvation to find the killer; let's move on. Other than that fairly minor detail, the only problem this movie will be up against is the fact that people's initial reaction is likely to be negative. Bad word-of-mouth is a killer.
Directed by Sean Penn in what must have been a particularly morose mood, The Pledge is not an easy movie. Those people behind me weren't griping about the acting or the cinematography. The movie just doesn't leave you with a happy feeling. I don't feel like I'm giving anything away by saying that; you can tell just by watching the opening credits. That makes The Pledge something of an oddity amidst the neat little packages Hollywood has been feeding us for years. It's a very good movie, but some people would just rather not see something that isn't going to uplift them. I guess I can understand that, but if you decide to give The Pledge a chance, I can promise it'll give you something to think about. Grade: B+
The Pledge is rated R for language and violence.
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