"Take the Pledge to Avoid This Movie"
What You Need To Know:
THE PLEDGE seems to come across as a filmmaking and acting exercise rather than a real story with real flesh and blood characters. Nicholson’s often detached performance doesn’t help. Furthermore, the movie plays on the tired old cliché that Christians who are vocal about their faith may really be dangerous fanatics, if not secret serial killers. Finally, THE PLEDGE includes plenty of strong foul language, especially strong profanities, and graphic violent images. Among the images are bloody crime photos of the serial killer’s poor victims
(PaPa, AbAb, C, LLL, VVV, S, NN, AA, D, MM) Pagan worldview about a good cop who becomes obsessed with solving a terrible crime & an unmarried Christian evangelist becomes a prime suspect for a period of time but turns out to be a relatively normal pastor of a small rural church; 18 obscenities, 5 mild profanities & 11 strong profanities; extreme, bloody, brief violence including brutal on-screen gunshot suicide, images of bloody, semi-nude corpses of little girls, woman has bruises on her face from ex-husband, & fiery traffic accident with images of burnt corpse; no sex scenes but unmarried couple lives together & becomes romantically involved & verbal references by cops about serial killer who sexually assaulted his young victims; upper male nudity during scene with body-building weights & bloody semi-nude crime photos of dead young girls; alcohol use & man descends into madness & an apparent drunken stupor; much smoking; and, obsession clouds man’s mind & retired policeman uses little girl as bait to trap a killer.
THE PLEDGE, starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Sean Penn, is more of a character study with a weird ending rather than a real mystery thriller about a possible serial killer. Nicholson, Penn and the other actors make some bonehead choices in the story which nearly totally undercut what they are trying to do.
In the story, Nicholson plays Nevada homicide detective Jerry Black who goes to a surprise retirement party on his last day of work. Jerry just can’t leave his job behind, however. He goes to a brutal crime scene in the woods near his own ice-fishing cabin. The sexual assault and bloody murder of a young girl is devastating to him. The mother of the girl makes Jerry promise, by his “soul’s salvation,” that he will catch the killer.
The police immediately arrest a suspect, a mentally handicapped Native American. Another policeman provokes a confused confession out of the poor man, who then grabs a gun and commits bloody suicide, in graphic detail. That seems to solve the case, but Jerry doesn’t accept the confession. He tries to find out if there’s a better suspect. When he sees a childish drawing of another possible suspect that the dead girl made in school, Jerry thinks he should search the area for other, similar crimes, even though he’s no longer on the force, and, indeed, he does find other similar crimes in the area.
Since the girl’s drawing indicates the real murderer is a tall man with a black station wagon, Jerry buys a gasoline station near an important crossroads nearby. He begins to look for a tall man driving a black station wagon. In the process, he befriends Lori, a local waitress played by Sean Penn’s wife, Robin Wright Penn. Lori has been battered by her ex-husband, so Jerry offers his home and protection to Lori and her young daughter Chrissy. His obsession with solving the crime, however, leads him to unconsciously use Chrissy as bait for the killer. Although the killer gets his just desserts in an act of God or “Fate,” Jerry does not learn about it. Sadly for Jerry, Lori discovers what he’s doing to Chrissy, and Jerry eventually descends into madness and a drunken stupor.
Director Sean Penn telegraphs the ending to THE PLEDGE early on by showing viewers a mysterious, perplexing scene from Jerry’s future. Although his character is clearly affected powerfully by the first girl’s murder, Nicholson gives one of his patented detached performances that tends to alienate average viewers, but which secular movie critics mistake for acting brilliance. In fact, the whole movie shies away from presenting this material in a more involving manner. While there are some interesting shots during the movie, there is only one truly brilliant shot, when Jerry learns in one image that the suspect he’s leaning toward as the real killer is really harmless. Thus, THE PLEDGE seems to come across as more of a filmmaking and acting exercise rather than a real story with real flesh and blood characters. Even the cameos by some acclaimed actors, especially the ones by Helen Mirren and newcomer Benicio Del Toro, seem pointless and, in Benicio’s case, overwrought.
THE PLEDGE implies that Jerry’s promise to find the killer becomes an obsession whereby Jerry does indeed lose his “soul’s salvation.” In the end, Jerry becomes a lost figure mumbling incoherently by the side of the road. Furthermore, the movie plays on the tired old cliché that Christians who are vocal about their faith are really just dangerous fanatics, if not secret serial killers. For a time, Jerry suspects the real killer is the local Christian fundamentalist pastor in the small rural church, but his suspicions turn out to be mistaken. Despite the positive resolution, this plot twist preys upon the fears and prejudices of radical atheists and other anti-Christian bigots, who have become fundamentalist fanatics in their own right.
Finally, THE PLEDGE contains plenty of foul language, especially strong profanities, and graphic violent images. Among the images are bloody crime photos of the serial killer’s victims. There is no good reason to show such extreme images. Viewers can identify with Jerry’s determination to find the killer without them.