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by Robert McCourt | October 16th, 2001

The Pledge

In the production notes 'The Pledge' is described as 'a detective grappling with retirement. A tragic crime. A life changing promise.'. This was translated by the FT as 'a thriller that goes into crisis, then into early retirement', perhaps an accurate reflection. Jack Nicholson, (Jerry Black) plays the part of a battered and old homicide detective who is unable to come to terms with his inescapable retirement.

Leaving his own party Jerry insists that he has still got six hours left on the clock and picks up his worn out jacket to take up just 'one last case'. Seemingly tired of life and tired of humanity's relentless cruelty to one another Jerry finds himself once again at a murder scene reluctantly having to deliver the devastating news to the parents. As if in an effort to avoid argument he strangely and suddenly takes up the Pledge, swearing on his soul salvation to find the man who murdered their daughter.
The crime though becomes a simple open and shut case, after a deluded American Indian confesses to the crime and quickly commits suicide. But as you've probably already guessed Jerry has a hunch and begs his former boss Eric Pollack (Sam Shepard) to reopen the case.
Whilst you may feel that you have seen this film before 'The Pledge' has its moments, and is a remarkable achievement. Filmed in British Colombia (Canada), and shot in 55 days over the winter director Sean Penn still manages to stage all four seasons, winter, spring, summer and fall. Producer Michael Fitzgerald explains that the cast and crew had to be completely flexible at all times. Often they would arrive on location in the morning and by the time they got everything in place the whether conditions would have completely changed forcing them to pack up and start again. This problem though was not one that they weren't able to overcome, and the Penn has managed to produce some stunningly beautiful scenes on screen. When Jerry went to break the news to the parents Jack Nicholson walks calmly through a crowded turkey farm, and though you can't hear any dialogue above the deafening noise of turkey's the simple actions are incredibly effective.
The Pledge also creates an interesting moral dilemma. Whilst Jerry may have sworn to solving the murder of an eight-year-old girl can he really justify using another innocent little girl as bait? Ultimately it is a chronically sad film, that is rescued from predictability by a cruel twist leaving Jerry Black as a crazy old junk, supported by a cast of well known Hollywood actors.


The Pledge - Warner Bros. Pictures
Director - Sean Penn
Starring - Jack Nicholson
Certificate 15

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