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The Pledge

Starring Jack Nicholson; Robin Wright Penn
Screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski
Based on the novel by Friedrich Duerrenmatt
Directed by Sean Penn

IN SHORT: For the arthouse. [Rated R for strong violence and language. 124 minutes]

On the loose: one kidlet killer, partial to 8 year old blonde girls. On the trail: a retired cop who's promised a grieving mother on his soul's salvation that he would find the fiend. On the bullseye: the daughter of said flatfoot's new romantic interest -- and neither mom nor daughter know it. On the mark . . . get set . . . wait for it . . . wait for it some more . . . keep waiting . . .

just a bit more . . . not yet . . . almost . . .

We don't compare to source material which, in this case, never caught the boat to these English speaking shores (factual detail thanks to Greg Dean Schmitz at Coming Attractions). With the big screen, English adaptation of Friedrich Duerrenmatt's novel, we all get to sit and hypothesize exactly how much of the novel has failed to make it to the big screen. We get to do that because what is on the screen is remarkably unengaging, not because of lesser performances by stars Jack Nicholson and Robin Wright Penn, but because of a screenplay which goes from story point to story point without building a strong emotional base on which to place the climactic scenes.

With six hours left on his career clock, retiring homicide detective Jerry Black (Nicholson) takes on one last job, informing the parents of a little girl that the pride of their hearts has had her throat cut ear to ear. The distraught parents get Black to promise, on his "soul's salvation," that he will find the killer. There is a suspect, a mentally slow Native American (Benecio Del Toro) who confesses to the crime. The rural cops of Monash, Nevada -- the location is somewhere way outside of Reno -- close the books and walk away, but Jerry Black has a hunch.

We all know about good cops and their hunches. A computer search, done as a favor for the now retired Black, shows two similar unsolved mysteries in that area. Jerry settles down, buys a dilapidated gas station, and waits for suspects to appear. A year down the line, Jerry befriends Lori (Robin Wright Penn) and her daughter, Chrissie. Lori's husband beats her, but she won't press charges because he pays his support. The mom and daughter take rooms in Jerry 's house, and over the course of the next year, emotional bonds are formed. The hunt for the killer seems to recede in the background until, one day Chrissie buys a red dress. Soon after she spills a secret to Jerry she's not supposed to tell her mom -- that she's going to meet a stranger she calls "The Wizard," who has given her chocolate candy similar to that used in the earlier killing.

What could have been absolutely compelling drama -- the obsessed detective and his self-conflict with the protective father figure he has become -- does not materialize. The screenplay, by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski, spends two thirds of its time tracking the minute details of the investigative process and never provides enough emotional background to Nicholson's character to explain his choices in the story's endgame. In trying to avoid age old story clichés such as the young cops who humor the old cop and that old "hunch thing" The Pledge fails to offer up a good substitute. It's obsession with detail keeps it from developing the necessary relationship between the adult characters. For all his power, and Nicholson does all that he can with what the script offers, it is Robin Wright Penn's character that is more developed. A strong relationship between the pair is needed to build tension, and that is not here.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Pledge, he would have paid...


As far as we're concerned, Jack Nicholson can pick any project he wants to do and we'll sit down for it, knowing that we'll get a great performance. In this case, we'd prefer to rent.

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