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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Movie Review: THE PLEDGE

THE PLEDGE
2001
R


"I made a promise, Eric. You're old enough to remember when that meant something."
-- Jerry Black

The Pledge is a 2001 dramatic film directed by Sean Penn that centers around one man's obsession with solving a murder mystery. On the day of his retirement, Detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) tags along on a call for the rape and murder of a young girl. It falls into his hands to tell the girl's parents of the tragedy, and to give them assurance and peace of mind, he promises to bring the culprit to justice. The police soon find their prime suspect, but Jerry doesn't believe this man to be the true perpetrator. Still, he lets bygones be bygones and starts on his retirement, ultimately settling in a small Nevada town. He starts a relationship with a young waitress named Lori (Robin Wright) and her daughter, and though his life is moving forward, he can never shake the case from his mind. It continues to gnaw at him until a string of events occur that cause him to look into the case once again.

I first heard about The Pledge after reading about it in Leonard Maltin's book, 151 Movies You've Never Seen. I started to see it listed on NetFlix's Instant Watch, and I was ultimately drawn to the film by its loaded cast. What I couldn't really know was just what type of film I'd be getting myself into.

The film's screenplay is a slow but delicate piece that manages to keep the viewer engaged despite its plodding pace. In the first part of the film, things seem to move quickly, but as soon as Jerry makes his move to retirement, everything slows down to a crawl. It's only in the film's seemingly anti-climactic finale that the speed kicks up again, but we're left scratching our heads as the credits start to roll. However, the pacing seems to work within the constructs of the film. The manic start and end satisfy the need for a bit of action, but the slow-moving pieces in between help give us a sense of Jerry's character. At the same time, we can see him formulating a plan for catching this mysterious monster, and it all helps work toward the effectiveness of the finale. I previously stated that the ending seemed a tad bit anti-climactic, but that's only true to the untrained eye. The Pledge's story actually offers a completely devastating and depressing conclusion, giving a somewhat satisfying finish to the entire endeavor.

Bolstering the solid screenplay is the fantastic work of the cast, which is essentially a who's-who of big-time Hollywood stars. Nicholson is the film's centerpiece, and he provides one of the better roles of his career, bringing a slew of emotions to the Jerry character. His work with the conclusion helps bring the brilliance of the film as a whole, and simply have to applaud the three-time Oscar winner. Wright also manages to bring forth a great turn in her supporting role, and I also thought the young Pauline Roberts did a splendid job as well. Also be on the watch for a number of great small or cameo appearances from the likes of Aaron Eckhart, Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Clarkson, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, Helen Mirren and Tom Noonan.

Where The Pledge most succeeds, however, is in the atmosphere it creates. Penn does a great job in crafting a realistic world where we can believe everything that's happening. As time continues to pass and another meeting with our mysterious killer looms on the horizon, the film slowly gains this very disgusting feeling, almost as though you know what's going to happen but still don't want it to come across the screen. There was a number of moments where I was sure I knew the direction the film was headed but was surreptitiously proven wrong. You just get this knot in your stomach as the film progresses, and you can only hope that, by the film's end, it will have gone away. What makes this film stand apart, however, is that it doesn't take that knot away. Instead, it gives you something to chew on and ponder well after you've finished watching. I think Maltin put it best in his book when he said the following:
The Pledge is the kind of movie that stays with you, precisely because it poses as many questions as it answers - and because Jack Nicholson makes such a lasting impression.
The combination of a stellar screenplay, a superb cast and an eerie atmosphere makes The Pledge one of the better movies I've seen of late. Kudos to Mr. Penn on this one. 


Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
Status: Should See

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