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The Pledge

Jack Nicholoson stars in this occasionally provocative drama which, although it hides in the shell of a crime thriller, is sure to disappoint fans of the genre. The third film directed by Sean Penn, The Pledge features Nicholson as Detective Jerry Black, a retiring Reno cop who, on the night of his retirement party, promises a greiving mother that he'll find the brutal killer of her young daughter. Although the key suspect, a retarded Native American (Benicio Del Toro), is captured that same night and mumbles a confused confession, Black doesn't buy it. When the department refuses to reopen the case, Black sets about solving it on his own, and in a most unorthodox way. As always, Penn's approach is richly textured and heavily influenced by the raw style of John Cassavettes, and it makes an interesting fusion with the more typical aesthetics of the murder mystery. The flip side, however, is that Penn also slips into Cassavettes-like moments of awkward and unconvincing indulgence that border on the laughable. It's unfortunate. Nicholson's work is strong — although Black's descent into dementia is approached too sporadically to justify the ending — the story is compelling, and Penn crafts some excellent scenes, particularly in his uniquely haunting, unforgettable use of a chicken farm. Unsurprisingly, Penn's strength is working with actors, and he draws fine, nuanced performances from his cast, which includes Aaron Eckhart, Sam Shepard, Robin Wright Penn (made to look truly ghastly in excellent make-up), Tom Noonan, Harry Dean Stanton, Costas Mandylor, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, and excellent child actress Pauline Roberts. Warner's DVD release of The Pledge is presented in a solid anamorphic transfer (2.20:1) and excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Theatrical trailer, snap-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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