There's an interesting history for the source material of The Pledge, written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, and I would very much like to check out It Happened In Broad Daylight, a previous film working with Dürrenmatt's story, but I am not here to present an overview of that journey. I'm just going to review the film I saw, but I wanted to make people aware of other ways to discover this story.
Jack Nicholson plays Jerry Black, a police detective due to retire. Plans for a happy send-off are disrupted by the discovery of a child's corpse in the local area, and Jerry becomes determined to end his career by solving this case. Someone must be brought to justice. An evil individual must be stopped. Perhaps that can happen when Toby Jay Wadenah (Benicio del Toro) is brought in for questioning, or perhaps this case will haunt Jerry for a long time, warping his mind as he obsesses over every detail and remains determined to find a killer he believes is still at large.
The third feature film directed by the po-faced agitator known as Sean Penn (a man who probably smiled when that bloody U2 album was automatically downloaded to his iTunes account, and still listens to it weekly), The Pledge is a superb film for a number of reasons, including Penn's confident direction throughout. The writing gives you everything you need without feeling patronising, but also allows for a lot of quieter moments without testing your patience. The screenplay was co-written by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski (a husband and wife writing duo), and they do a great job at making the most of the source material.
Another big plus, arguably the biggest, is the performance from Jack Nicholson. Nicholson is a much-celebrated actor, and has delivered a number of truly iconic performances, but it's hard to argue against the fact that his roles throughout the past few decades most often felt like he was playing some version of himself. Like a number of other actors I could mention, Nicholson became all too easy to view as a parody at times, but he does work here that reminds you of just how great he can be with material that doesn't ask him to rely on his usual tricks and manic twinkle in the eyes. He's surrounded by an excellent selection of people supporting him, no matter the size of their roles, including the aforementioned Del Toro. Others stepping up to the mark include Aaron Eckhart, Robin Wright, Helen Mirren, and Tom Noonan.
Full of dread and despair throughout, this certainly isn't a film to watch when you're not prepared for something that will put you through the emotional wringer. There is a middle section that provides just enough temporary respite, but that only makes it slightly easier to battle all the way through to an ending that may or may not provide some kind of resolution for the central characters. Or, in other words, be prepared to walk under dark grey clouds, even if you get some time when you're not being rained on.
You may not want to revisit this, I myself have only just given it a second viewing for this review, but you'll be glad that you watched it. And that's my pledge to you.*
*not legally binding.
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