Jack Nicholson plays Jerry White, a retiring cop who takes on one last case after some rather unreasonable battery farmers make him swear on his eternal soul to find the person who killed their daughter.
This sounds like many other crime thrillers, and story wise it is, for the most part. But it sets itself apart in several ways. First are the performances, particularly Nicholson, giving possibly his most subdued turn ever, without so much as a crazy eye or emotional outburst to be seen. It enjoys a cast of surprisingly big names popping up in small roles, including Mickey Rourke, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Benicio del Toro and Venessa Redgrave, all of whom do a good job.
Another way it sets itself apart is by pausing the police work about half way through for Jerry to move into a gas station and settle down with a woman and her child. Robin Wright Penn is also excellent as Jerry’s love interest Lori, and while this romance initially feels unnecessary, it plays into the plot in an unexpected way, as we come to question Jerry’s motivations behind the entire thing.
Directed by Sean Penn, he shows great interest in the craft, drawing attention to minor details in scenes which suggests both a fascination with the subtleties of film making and serves to keep us guessing as to what they may play a part later on. He uses innovative camerawork and editing techniques which combine with excellent cinematography to mark this out as a high quality endeavour.
But the strength of any good detective thriller hangs heavily on its ending. Here The Pledge gets it half right. On the one hand it ends in a way that’s certainly unexpected, and avoids a clumsy Psycho-style explanation of the plot. But it may not be satisfying to everyone, and risks leaving you feeling like you could have done with a little more to take home. But there’s still plenty to enjoy, in what is an undeniably intriguing and well-crafted film.