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PLEDGE, THE

SYNOPSIS:
On the day of his retirement from Homicide division, Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) gets drawn into what seems to be the third in a series of similar rape-murders involving very young girls. Jerry is left to break the news to the distraught mother, who insists that Jerry promise ‘on his soul’s salvation’ that he find the murderer of her little girl. Against the advice and wishes of his colleagues, like young detective Stan Krolak (Aaron Eckhart), Jerry chases up the clues and gradually forms a close bond with local waitress Lori (Robin Wright Penn) whose little girl Chrissy (Pauline Roberts) is potentially another victim. But to what lengths will Jerry go to keep his promise and at what cost?

It's hardly surprising that The Pledge's musical palette comprises a multitude of diverse ingredients – variously soothing, ethereal, rhythmic, harmonious, discordant and jazzy. After all, Hans Zimmer’s music reflects the range of emotions we encounter in this edgy, gripping thriller about a detective whose fate is driven by circumstances beyond his control. A horrific crime, impending retirement, a sincere promise and a driving quest for purpose - these circumstances open a door that leads to obsession and confusion. Although we may have a pretty good idea where the story is heading, it doesn't in any way spoil the experience; here is a canvas where the brush strokes are bold, complex and thought provoking. Sean Penn's direction is intuitive, intelligent and never predictable. The craft is intense and artistic. And of course, there is Jack Nicholson. Nicholson is an actor whose presence more than fills the screen. At 64 nothing much has changed. He might look a bit older, but he still has that magic, charm, madness and command that has made him a star for more than four decades. This screen adaptation gives Nicholson a chance to display his range. One minute he is Randle Patrick McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the next he is everyone's favourite granddad as he reads Thumbelina to an impressionable eight year old. Cinematic with a concise, understated script, I enjoyed The Pledge's sheer economy of story telling. Images speak volumes, while the weighty performances of an extraordinary star cast anchor the issues, the story and the morals. There’s a string of superb cameos: Benicio del Toro is almost unrecognizable as a shockingly tragic lost soul, while Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren and Mickey Rourke bring depth. Robin Wright Penn gives a warmly honest performance and I especially enjoyed Aaron Eckhard's multi-layered detective. A film of contrasts, there are many subtleties to enjoy: ambiguities and complexity that we as human beings share. There's a scene when Nicholson's character is fishing from a small boat on the lake, surrounded by dense green forests. A surreal rainbow steals our attention, until we notice the ominous dark shadow directly underneath. The striking snowy white title sequence is spectacular by its simplicity, alluring by its ambiguity. Although the pace of the storytelling suffers a little towards its breathtaking conclusion, The Pledge is a enthralling and haunting cinematic experience that satisfies and stimulates.
Louise Keller

From the unresolved, enigmatic, engaging, and cinematic opening to the hard-heart melting closing, The Pledge is a movie egg that promises to open … and open … and open …. and … doesn’t. It’s marvellous Jack Nicholson, of course, a notch and an era up from middle aged Jack, into wise old, retiring cop Jack, with new wrinkles and folds, but the same old flash in the eyes, the same old elevator eyebrows and the new wisdom, patience and fortitude of a life of a thousand arrows. It’s a good story and the book is also evident in the film’s dynamic stretch and its elongated sequences where prose would do but pictures don’t – quite. Words work on a level like music (and the score is marvellous) in our heads. Pictures are more specific, and the translation – while earnest and fervently ambitious to reach much meaning – is bogged down in the prose instead of the pictures. But both the book and the film are searching for the revelation of this character, and in that respect, the film comes very close to being a perfect tuning fork for Nicholson’s Jerry Black. Then there is a gallery of stars in cameos often not much more than a single scene. Very rich, but they set up expectations that are never really fulfilled. The arts and crafts of the film are almost indulgently refined, carrying us into a time and place with ease. But sometimes these are travels without real meaning (like the intense and intriguing opening). All the same, we comply and nod and listen to the tour guide. Only at the end do we question if we got our money’s worth. Or more importantly, our time’s worth. It comes very close.
Andrew L. Urban

Sean Penn's drama begins as a straightforward detective story and evolves into a riveting study of obsession. Like his previous films The Indian Runner and The Crossing Guard, The Pledge deals with the aftermath of tragedy - in this case the brutal murder of a young girl. All evidence suggests she was killed by mentally ill Toby Jay Wadenah (Benicio Del Toro) but years of experience tells detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) something's not right. In an extraordinary scene at the turkey farm run by the murdered child's parents, Jerry promises "by my soul's salvation" to catch the killer. Once his pledge is made this goes beyond the police procedural and into a character study of unusual and impressive intensity. When Jerry decides to buy an old gas station on the road he believes the real killer may frequent his former police friends think he's crazy but as he tells chief Pollack (Sam Shepard) "I made a promise Eric, you're old enough to remember when that meant something." Nicholson is at his best here, loading Jerry with emotional complexities that peel off when he falls in love with local barmaid Lori (Robin Wright Penn) who has a daughter about the same age as the murdered girl. Could he even think of using her as bait to trap the killer? Where it goes from here is into risky psychological territory that works because of the intelligence of Penn and skill of Nicholson in making us less concerned with unmasking a murderer than exploring a mind in which obsession borders on madness. The deliberate pacing may not be to everyone's liking at first but give this film a chance to establish its rhythms and take you to dark and compelling places. Penn is a little too fond of heavy handed visual metaphors and likes to hammer his points too long but that's forgivable when the territory is this rich.
Richard Kuipers



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

PLEDGE, THE (MA)
(US)

CAST: Jack Nicholson, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Tom Noonan, Robin Wright Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton, Pauline Roberts, Patricia Clarkson, Beau Daniels, Benicio Del Toro

DIRECTOR: Sean Penn

PRODUCERS: Michael Fitzgerald, Sean Penn, Elie Samaha

SCRIPT: Jerzy Kromolowski & Mary Olson (from Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s novel),

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Chris Menges

EDITOR: Jay Lash Cassidy

MUSIC: Klaus Badelt, Hans Zimmer

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Bill Groom

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: August 9, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: February 6, 2002







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