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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.52%
Worth A Look25.93%
Pretty Bad: 16.05%
Total Crap: 13.58%

5 reviews, 51 user ratings

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Pledge, The
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by Stephen Groenewegen

4 stars

The Pledge, the third film from director Sean Penn, is a sombre piece about justice, obsession and the strange workings of fate.

It opens with the discovery of a body in the Nevada snow-scape; a little girl has been brutally raped and murdered. Detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) arrives at the crime scene from his own retirement party, and agrees to notify the parents. The mother (Patricia Clarkson) compels him to swear "by [his] soul's salvation" that he will find their daughter's killer. His pledge proves to be a big mistake.

The police close the investigation when a Native American vagrant (Benicio Del Toro), arrested after fleeing the crime scene, commits suicide. But Jerry, now retired from the force, can't forget his promise. He purchases a nearby gas station and continues investigating similar cases of missing or murdered girls in the vicinity.

The Pledge is more character study than murder mystery. Penn's focus is what happens to Jerry, rather than clearly identifying the killer or his motives (though we get enough of an idea to satisfy our curiosity).

Nicholson is vital to the film's success. With a grizzly moustache and lumbering, older policeman's gait, he gives a low-key performance without any of his trademark mannerisms - the cocked eyebrow, twinkling eye or self-satisfied smirk of his last film, As Good As it Gets. Although he's low-key, Nicholson has too much charisma in check to be dull. He earns our sympathy as we see Jerry transformed by events, even when it's difficult to relate to his actions.

Nicholson is joined by a string of famous actors in cameo roles - Benicio Del Toro, Helen Mirren, Mickey Rourke, Vanessa Redgrave, Harry Dean Stanton, Sam Shepard. Most of these actors have only one scene, and it becomes distracting wondering who will turn up next (perhaps they were literally lining up to be in Penn's next film, or else owed him a favour). Redgrave is particularly affecting as the dead girl's grandmother; del Toro, alarmingly over-the-top as the vagrant, complete with showy intellectual disability. Aaron Eckhart and Robin Wright Penn are memorable in more substantial roles.

The screenplay transplants Friedrich Dürrenmatt's novel from Switzerland to Nevada. Chris Menges' rich, outdoor cinematography adds to the dreamlike mood. The seasons are so vividly photographed that Penn's repetitive shots of birds passing overhead are a redundant indicator of time passing. I could also have done without some pointless slow-motion during an early party scene. In its favour, The Pledge contains one of the most startling sequences I've seen all year: to reach the murdered girl's parents at the other end of a barn, Jerry must wade through hundreds of chattering, gobbling turkeys.

The stark, snow-bound images and solemn mood reminded me of The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction, but I found The Pledge even more accessible and rewarding.

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originally posted: 08/17/01 13:57:35
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User Comments

2/09/20 GLR Insulting, pretentious, heavy-handed,AKA sean penn's 3rd movie 1 stars
12/06/14 Richard Brandt By the end, all the emphasis on Jerry being a fisherman made perfect sense. 3 stars
6/15/12 chris conley Boring yet really acted well, the ending compeletely sinks the movie. 1 stars
4/17/10 tc bronson A deep movie. Didn't like the ending tho 5 stars
1/27/08 Mo I want two hours of my life back--horrible movie 1 stars
5/25/07 fools♫gold A TRUE cult flick, like this year's "Premonition," which FEW people fall in love with. 5 stars
9/15/06 Charles Tatum Effective but depressingly downbeat 4 stars
12/24/04 Landshark filling station for the miserable 4 stars
12/05/04 paul watson Brilliant, 1st Penn I'veseen, I am glad he doesnt pander to the masses. True Storytelling 5 stars
9/04/04 T.B. It very boring... 2 stars
8/21/04 jane dough Really dumb from the git go. After that, mostly predictable. Tediously slow pacing. 1 stars
5/10/04 R.W. Welch Ironic detective story sags some in the middle but has impressive performances. 4 stars
2/03/04 Phil M. Aficionado Contrived with loose ends and plot holes to save fine acting & good commentary on obsession 3 stars
10/11/03 JimmyC Probobly the worst JACK movie ever made. 1 stars
9/23/03 Alice very boring to me, pointless 2 stars
8/24/03 the illuminati You know what? This was a good flick! I liked that it wasn't so tight and restrictive... 4 stars
7/09/03 natasha_theobald not afraid of quiet moments, gentle pacing, or ambiguity 4 stars
6/05/03 JoeSco well done and full marks to Penn for the ending 4 stars
3/03/03 Jack Sommersby Very involving and brilliantly atmospheric, but also metaphorically dense. 3 stars
1/22/03 Pinkline Jones Excellent - disturbing - thoughtful 5 stars
7/20/02 ! I just didnt get it.. 3 stars
6/29/02 The Bomb69 not a hollywood ending so most won't like it, glad Penn went this route 4 stars
2/01/02 Terrie Smith Intense and moody; Nicholson is good. Ending will please few. 4 stars
1/29/02 Law Firm of Dewey, Cheatam & Howe A little more overacting than I can stand, still waiting for Sean's masterpiece 3 stars
1/21/02 Jonas Kyratzes A great movie, but not one everybody is going to understand. 5 stars
11/14/01 Jimbo Good thriller. Worth seeing 4 stars
10/22/01 Alex subtle and powerful 5 stars
8/19/01 stanley beautiful, slower-than-expected "thriller" 4 stars
8/18/01 Marcs Excellent! 5 stars
8/18/01 onesmartcookie This really could have been good...I was anticipating a closure and got the ending credits 4 stars
8/14/01 Lalo Linguini Way slow, with a dissapointing ending. Could have been so much better. 3 stars
8/09/01 Danny & Sharon BIG stars, BIG TALK,drawn out and badly scripted . but same all story . Film Fest Flop 2 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk So intense! Penn proves he can direct, Jack just does what he does a pimp. 4 stars
6/30/01 othree a going nowhere angst movie, still love Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson. 3 stars
6/28/01 Monday Morning Way too slow. At least 30 mins. of filler should have been surgically removed. 1 stars
6/26/01 Madonna Not beaten, bitchslapped by me like the old days you pompous moron... 1 stars
6/26/01 SeanPenn I should be beaten for producing and directing this garbage. Sorry. I am an idiot. 1 stars
6/26/01 JesseL A profound combination of boring tedium and depressing cliche. Cameraman on LSD. 1 stars
6/15/01 J Ignore those pan this film. It was excellent! 5 stars
3/24/01 pat The most irritatingly stupid movie of the year....couldnt sit thru 1 stars
3/22/01 anne corsi terrific movie 5 stars
2/04/01 3 star Mickey Rourke small role ,great acting, Film so so 3 stars
2/03/01 jane fazzari Very weak, too many holes and loose ends. 2 stars
1/25/01 jon j the feel good movie of the year! 2 stars
1/25/01 Jim Shertzer Grim, difficult but persistent involving and compelling film with a fewunrealized ambitions 4 stars
1/22/01 John Park Worst....Movie....Ever! The suckiest suck that ever sucked! DO NOT SEE!!!! 1 stars
1/22/01 28 yowm It started like it was going to be a suspense thriller and then kind of dragged on and on.. 2 stars
1/22/01 Daniel Gonzales Jr suspense, high tension, good example of obsessional behavior 4 stars
1/22/01 Evan Price banal... pretentious... virtual absence of direction 2 stars
1/20/01 Angela M. Murtagh entertaining at first...not a very good ending... 3 stars
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  19-Jan-2001 (R)


  09-Aug-2001 (R)

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