Eye spy Jack Nicholson
Swiss author Friedrich Durrenmatt’s novel finds itself transformed into cinematic reality in Sean Penn's third directorial outing, The Pledge.
The cast boasts of Hollywood heavyweights Jack Nicholson, Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke and Sam Shepard.
And although this dectective drama with a difference is interesting enough; as a viewer, you’re left feeling a tad dissatisfied at the end of it all.
Academy award-winner Jack Nicholson plays Jerry Black -- a twice-divorced, marlin-fishing, soon-to-retire cop. Jerry's uncomfortable with the notion of being 'put out to pasture', but he accepts the retirement gift -- a vacation to Mexico -- from his colleagues.
With six hours left for the end of his last day on the job, Ginny, an eight-year-old, is murdered. The gruesome case is too tempting for Black to resist.
Jerry finds himself conveying the dreadful news to the parents of the murdered child. Ginny's mother (Patricia Clarkson), who's overcome with grief, makes Jerry swear on his "soul's salvation" that he will find her daughter’s killer.
And that's the turning point of Jerry's life. And this tailspins into an obsession, a quest for closure, which eventually pushes him over the brink.
A suspect – Toby Jay Wadenah (Benicio Del Torro) – a mentally retarded beaver trapper, who was seen in the vicinity is nabbed. And Jerry’s ex-cronie (Aaron Eckhart, Erin Brockovich) exhorts a confession out of the mountain man. Wadenah manages to get hold of a gun and shoot himself.
To the rest of the force, it’s just another open and shut case.
But Jerry, whose instincts have never been wrong, knows something’s amiss. Perhaps because he's still trying to grapple with his new life and sees more to it than meets the eye.
So, forgoing his vacation plans, he embarks on his search for truth, at the risk of being labelled crazy. He visits the little girl’s school, talks to her friends and grandmother (Vanessa Redgrave) and finally pieces together a profile of the supposed killer.
After running through the files at the station, he’s convinced that his man is a serial killer with a penchant for li'l blonde girls in red dresses.
He soon runs into a dead alley. And decides to quieten down, after buying a gas station at a Nevada mountainside town which, he figures, is at the heart of the killer’s killing fields.
Here he meets Lori, a single mother who he takes under his wing, and falls in love with her. But the demons of his past still haunt him. He willing now to sacrifice his love and the life of Lori’s daughter to redeem his pledge.
Jack Nicholson is convincing as the ageing dectective torn between his promise made on duty and love. But if you were looking for another Academy award-winning perormance, you’d be disappointed.
The other actors, save for Robin Wright, have barely any filmreel. Mickey Rourke, for example, puts in a fleeting appearance as warden of an aged home who hasn’t come to terms with his daughter’s mysterious disappearance.
Redgrave (Camelot; Girl, Interrupted) and Del Torro (Traffic) are competent, too; but wasted on their bit parts.
Penn, who teams up with Nicholson after the 1995 film The Crossing Guard, directs with finesse. He takes his time to tell his story, surveys the picturesque landscapes replete with snowladen mountains, pristine rivers and azure skies through cinematograper Chris Menges' camerawork.
The haunting background score, courtesy Hans Zimmer, heightens the mood.
But the films' lack of pace is where it flounders, especially in the first half.
Thankfully, the film keeps away from trite cliches and cooks up a novel ending, which kind of leaves you neither here nor there.
And if that was director Penn's objective, I think he’s accomplished it.
Although the old-cop-after-killer routine is pretty staid, the performances of the cast make the film an engrossing watch.
Director: Sean Penn
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Tom Noonan, Robin Wright Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, Sam Shepard, Lois Smith, Harry Dean Stanton
Screenplay: Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski
Based on the book by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Producers: Michael Fitzgerald, Sean Penn, Elie Samaha
Director of Photography: Chris Menges
Editor: Jay Cassidy
Music: Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt