14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Unpredictable thriller, beautifully realized,
This review is from: The Pledge  [DVD] (DVD)
The ending of this movie, of which we see glimpses in the beginning, is an example of the sort of cosmic irony that some world-renown writers apply to human affairs. It is not the sort of thing usually seen in a movie of course, since the mass mind at which most movies are directed will find it dissatisfying, even irritating.
The world-renowned author responsible for the ending of this tale of a retired cop on the trail of a serial killer of blond little girls in red dresses is none other than Swiss novelist and playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt who wrote the novel from which the screen play was adapted.
The "pledge" in the title is that of just-retiring Reno, Nevada cop Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) who is not convinced that a confession by a mentally-disturbed Native American, played convincingly by Benicio Del Toro, is genuine. Jerry Black gives his word to the mother of the murdered little girl that he will find the killer. However, he is no longer on the force and gets only intermittent help from his colleagues who think he has gone a little daffy. Nicholson, as usual, totally becomes the character he is playing and gives an outstanding performance. He is assisted by Aaron Eckhart who plays the detective who got the "confession," and by Robin Wright Penn who plays Lori, the mother of another little girl.
The direction by Sean Penn is uncluttered, focused and visually astute. For example, note the way the little girl playing in the swings between the highway and the gas station affects our expectation of what is to come. Penn also captures well the high country atmosphere around Reno, Nevada and attendant lifestyles, and for the most part keeps his auteur ambitions secondary to the telling of the story. The script by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski is artistically true with crisp, direct dialogue and a fine dramatic structure. The film is also nicely cut so that everything is clear without any belaboring of the obvious. Some of the set scenes as Jerry Black interviews the grandmother of the slain little girl (Vanessa Redgrave in a cameo) and then a psychiatrist (..., who is just perfect in her experienced skepticism) are very well done. Most importantly though, Penn did not give in to those who would demand a commercial ending over an artistic one. And for this he paid the price, since this film was not well-received by the mass audience.
Of course it is impossible to discuss the ending without giving away too much, but I think we can safely say that in real life sometimes chance and fate (if you will) step in and change things dramatically which makes us see our limitations and realize that some of what happens to us is beyond our control. I think that is what happened to Jerry Black and Lori; yet notice, too, that it is integral to Jerry Black's character and all that he has been all his life for him to make the insensitive mistake that he does.
Incidentally the ending can be fixed in a sequel... Well, that is not likely to happen since this was NOT a box office success. Only box office successes get to be sequels--which somehow (bizarrely) reminds me of the line from the old Charlie the Tuna TV commercial: "Only good-tasting tunas get to be Starkist."
For those who are wondering who really did kill the little girls, I will give you a hint: he got his just deserts in a symbolically appropriate manner.
Bottom line: a fine artistic achievement, an excellent diversion, and a treat for those who are fed up with films that play out in a tiresome, predictable manner.