The Pledge
***.1 GM
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Sam Shepard, Michael O'Keefe, Benicio Del Toro


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Jack's an interesting cat. Simply the fact that he's IN a film gives it something to watch. No one ever knows what the hell Jack's up to, what he might pull out of nowhere or how he might crack in a film. It's especially compelling when he's playing what seems to be a relatively normal joe, because there's always something under the surface waiting to emerge, and with Jack, the surface can seem nearly as creepy as whatever its hiding.

Here, Jack's a retiring detective who doesn't seem to be looking forward to it. He leaves his retirement party to investigate a case of a little girl raped and murdered in the woods. There's a witness - a mentally disturbed Indian - that is goaded into confessing, and it seems like an open and shut case to everybody but Jack. He does some digging and finds some straws to grasp at, but they don't let him keep the case open. So he tries to go about his normal life post-copland, but the promise he made to the little girl's parents to find the killer continues to haunt him, until he finds himself setting up a sting operation to try to bag the real culprit - whether he's doing it consciously or subconsciously is the real question.

I'm a big fan of Sean Penn's "The Crossing Guard," so I was looking forward to this one, even though it didn't have David Morse. This is another story about how the unjust death of children can mess with the mind, driving people towards acts they'd never consider in their right minds. It's not something anyone can write off to the unfairness of the world. It creates a burning need to seek justice, and that can lead to dangerous reactions when there's none to be found, as is usually the case.

Jack does a pretty good job with putting the lid on his general spooky-sly attitude and becoming a small-town bachelor that likes fishing and other little simple things. When Jack's reading a bedtime story to a little girl, and you're not waiting for the other shoe to drop, that means he's not playing a 'Jack' kinda character, and he's doing a good job, to boot. Robin Wright Penn does a decent job of playing down how attractive she can be (chipped tooth helps) to play the abused small-town wife and mother that seeks refuge in Jack's home and starts to fall for him, which makes what would normally be a ridiculous age-defying relationship feel more believable.

The story is a good one, with a slow, suspenseful build toward the inevitable confrontation with the suspected culprit, and with Jack's own demons that threaten to break him down and ruin him with the stakes this high. It's not an uplifting picture at all - films dealing with child rape and murder don't tend to be - but that's hardly a prerequisite to being good. Jack generally makes a movie worth watching, no matter what he's playing, and this film is no exception.

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