In an ugly insight, we realize Jerry will use the little girl as bait.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

In The Pledge, Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) bets the farm within moments of the opening scene. Whether he wins or loses, the journey from beginning to end is slow, mournful, and solemn. For fans of Nicholson and director Sean Penn, it may also be interesting, but you should know that this is a cop drama on tranquilizers.

Jerry Black is a Reno police detective stepping from a life of action and authority to the mere existence of retirement. On his last day on the job, Jerry draws the awful duty of telling a mother and father that their eight-year-old daughter has been found raped, mutilated, and murdered in a field of Nevada snow.

After he responds to the mother's plea to find the killer, we begin to understand that Jerry will become obsessed by the search. By this time, early in the film, director Penn has established a melancholy mood with a single ice fisherman on a frozen lake and the grim winter ordinariness of a shabby town. As Jerry breaks the grisly news in the barn of the family chicken farm, we listen to the squawking, wishing it would go away, but this is the family product, still needing to be fed. A cop smokes quietly outside on the little girl's swing. By now the mood is strong, and we begin to look forward to the story.

Premise established, Sean Penn leads Jerry on his search for the killer. Along the way Jerry interviews the child's grandmother (Vanessa Redgrave) and a psychologist (Helen Mirren), two characters we would never expect to meet in rural Nevada. As she does so often, Ms. Redgrave proves she can play anyone, anywhere, but the problem here is that neither her scene nor Ms. Mirren's moves the film forward. They are interesting, polished stones that are dropped into and sink right down through the story.

Instead of taking the fishing trip given him by colleagues as a retirement present, Jerry moves to a nearby fishing village, buys a gas station, and takes up with single mom Lori (Robin Wright Penn), whose daughter Chrissy (Pauline Roberts) is the same age as the murdered girl. In an ugly insight, we realize Jerry will use the little girl as bait.

Although a suspect is arrested and freed, and the pace quickens at the end, this aspiring art film just doesn't take strong enough emotional shape to hold us. The story meanders, giving us plenty of time to watch flying birds, meet villagers, listen to the violin that dominates the score, and watch a new season arrive with a flower poking through the snow.

Jack Nicholson uses great restraint in his portrait of Jerry, retired detective, but restraint is simply not a word we associate with Jack Nicholson. Asking him to bottle up his quirks and emotions deprives us of the one life force that might have lifted a movie that is otherwise too weak to hold us.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 493
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : R
Running time : 1h11m

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