The Pledge

The Pledge

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

As a filmmaker, Sean Penn is attracted to the hinterland, where obsessions feed off primitive fear. His movies threaten violence and have a brooding quality that eats the soul. Having laid the foundations for a tense, realistic thriller, using documentary footage wherever possible, he blows it with unnecessary camera tricks.

Jack Nicholson gave an unforgettable performance in The Crossing Guard, Penn's previous directorial outing, single-handedly rescuing the movie. Here, in a totally different role, he does it again. Just when you felt like writing him off as a prankster, he turns in something like this, which leaves you gasping with admiration.

He plays Jerry Black, a cop who has reached retirement. On his last day at the office, news comes in of an eight-year-old girl who has been murdered in the mountains. It is winter and the snow is deep.

He continues to study the case, which appears to be connected to similar unsolved murders going back eight years. His former colleagues are not interested. They have their man, a native American with a history of sexual crime, who committed suicide in custody.

Jerry makes a new life for himself close to the best trout lakes in Nevada, buys an old gas station and invites a waitress (Robin Wright Penn), with her eight-year- old daughter, to share the house with him.

After a while, you begin to wonder whether he has chosen them because of the daughter. The pace of the film slows as Jerry waits for the killer to strike again, encouraging the girl to choose a red dress at a charity stall - the other victims wore red - as if preparing a lure.

Penn uses famous names in cameo roles - Benicio Del Toro, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, Harry Dean Stanton and a glorious one-scener from Mickey Rourke - without making it look like a party. The film is beautifully shot by Chris Menges and, with Nicholson in supreme form, you have something Hitchcock might have missed lunch for.

However, he lets you off the hook during the long central section and the line goes slack.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2001
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A retired cop investigates the mystery of a child murder, linking it with others, even though officially the case is closed.
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Director: Sean Penn

Writer: Jerzy Kromolowski, Mary Olson-Kromolowski from the book by Friedrich Durrenmatt

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Wright Penn, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean stanton

Year: 2001

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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