Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Patricia Clarkson, Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren

Director: Sean Penn

I would strongly suggest no-one make their mind up about a film before seeing it ever again. Ignore any hype/criticism/claptrap…and just go and see the film. You’ll know nothing about it but then you’ll be surprised as the story unfolds, hence you’re far more likely to be objective and not be swayed by anyone else’s opinion. Let’s face it, all this text is only my opinion after all, isn’t it?

Now, go and see THE PLEDGE. Wow. Talk about a turn for the books. While consistently writing about “cliche, cliche, cliche” here comes something worth a long look. I’d heard nothing about it and was thus overwhelmed as I was watching – at this point its my turn to be “cliche, cliche, cliche” since the movie certainly wasn’t – a detective story with a difference. An engaging, poignant tale of one man’s quest for truth, it was an awesome, pumping, powerhouse of a movie.

Firstly, it’s directed by Sean Penn – yes, an accomplished director in his own right with two fine notches under his belt already – and, secondly, stars Jack Nicholson. Now, Jack’s traditionally given so much hype that you’d think all he had to do was show up and audiences would flock to see him. Consequently you’d forgive him for thinking he doesn’t have to try but in this film he gives an astonishing performance as the cop who, on the eve of his retirement, pledges to the family of a murdered girl that he will find her killer. This pitch may sound formulaic but the execution is most certainly not. Penn gives us an engrossing story about a man’s self-destruction as he desperately clings onto his sense of purpose in his life’s twilight. Littered with great cameos (Harry Dean Stanton has about three lines) it is a measure of the quality and reliability of Sean Penn that he can attract such a plethora of A-list simply to window-dress his project.

The film is slow in places, no doubt about that, and it does go off on a tangent in the middle section, morphing through different stages which makes some aspects border on the intangible, but you soon realise this is utterly intentional to the progression (or, rather, regression) of the central character. A measure of direction should be that you hardly notice it. Penn’s is seamless and, coupled with some beautiful cinematography, each scene adds layer on layer to the story, giving THE PLEDGE its…edge. In fact, it’s not a detective story at all, that’s merely a ruse to chart a story of the dangers of obsession and alienation. Compelling stuff.

5 out of 6 stars