The Pledge


Directed by: Sean Penn
Written by:Jerzy Kromolowski, Mary Olson
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Aaron Eckhart, Benecio Del Toro, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren
Released: August 9, 2001
Grade: A

Jerry Black’s (Nicholson) career as a Nevada sheriff has come to a close and his final hours are being spent surrounded by colleagues at his retirement party.  Then, a call comes in.  The mutilated body of an 8-year-old girl has been discovered in the woods.  Horrified by the discovery, police shirk the responsibility of informing the parents leaving Jerry to take on the obligation as one final job.

The young girl’s mother pleads with Jerry to find those responsible and she makes him pledge that the killer will be brought to justice.  That same night, a convicted rapist named Toby Jay Wadenah (Del Toro) is arrested in a vehicle matching the description provided by a witness.  He is mentally handicapped and Officer Stan Krolak (Eckhart) conjures a weak confession before Wadenah steals an officer’s gun and commits suicide.  The case is closed to everyone but Jerry who doesn’t believe Wadenah was their man.

The police department he was once the centre of, aren’t interested in his theories and so Jerry leaves town.  He buys a rundown petrol station bordering the highway and lives a life of solitude.  Yet, he continually peruses police records and interviews those involved in a search for that one breakthrough clue that can prove the killer is still out there.

At a local bar he meets Lori (Wright Penn), a waitress with a young daughter named Chrissy.  He takes them into him home after Lori is beaten by her ex-husband and has nowhere to turn.  The three become a close family but a nasty thought develops in Jerry’s mind.  Could Chrissy be used as “bait” to lure the real killer out of hiding?

Rarely can I recommend a film so highly as a must see!  Each character is difficult to label and Jack Nicholson (in his first role since his Academy Award winning turn in As Good As It Gets) is dynamite.  You’re never quite sure whether he’s perceptive or just crazy.  Clearly evidenced by the cast he has assembled, actor Sean Penn has rapidly become a leading director.  Acclaimed stars have offered their services for even the tiniest of scenes.  Benecio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Mickey Rourke, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton and Vanessa Redgrave are just a selection of those making an appearance.

Serial killer flicks are now a permanent staple on every studio’s release schedule but unlike Silence Of The Lambs, recent endings have been anything but thrilling.  We always know our hero is going to survive and the killer will make a stupid, hard-to-believe mistake that gives up his identity and solves the mystery.  The Pledge’s plot is something completely different.  We’re not even sure if there even is a killer and it’s this quality that distinguishes the film.  From the opening minute, you’ll doubt your otherwise reliable judgment.

The ending is the finest of the year.  It’s been 24 hours since I walked out of the cinema and I’ve thought about that ending more times than I’d care to admit - it’s brilliant.  That’s all I can reveal except to beg of you not to miss The Pledge and see for yourself just what critics are raving about.  A film that leaves you thinking not just to the very end, but beyond.