Former police officer Jack Nicholson is haunted by the murder of a little girl, so much so it tests his sanity. He finds the love of a good woman (Robin Wright Penn), who has a little girl as well, but he remains haunted and, as near as I can tell from this complete mess of a movie, goes insane.
Sean Penn directed this picture, which was released in 2001 (he directed another similarly dark mess of a movie released that same year, The Crossing Guard, so perhaps this was a phase). The film is clumsy, uninvolving and disconcertingly showy. Penn can’t just have a cop walk into a room without cross-cuts to the ticking clock and the face of a fat, stupid common clerk telling us something (but what?). Nicholson can’t drink at a Nevada airport bar without pointless flash cuts to whirring slot machines. Not only does all this jazz lead to continuity problems (Nicholson’s scotch miraculously becomes a beer), it is annoying.
The Pledge also demonstrates Hollywood’s disdain for the working class. Set in the flatland of Nevada, Robin Wright Penn, Sean’s then-wife, is a vessel of all Hollywood presumptions about regular folk. She plays a barmaid. She has a gnarled front tooth. She is a little dim. She wears a lot of flannel. And when her savior Nicholson comes to love both her and her daughter, we know that they will commune because . . . Nicholson fixes her tooth! I mean, let’s not take this working class thing too far. We can’t expect Jack Nicholson to have sex with woman with a gnarled tooth.
Another problem? Penn uses top actors for single scenes, so each feels compelled to ACCCCCCCCCCCTTTTTTTTTTT! like there’s no tomorrow. Benicio Del Toro, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, Helen Mirren, they all emote for a brief, generally unnecessary scene, and boy do they make the most of it. Also, the little girl is killed on the day of Nicholson’s retirement party. If Penn directs a war picture, God help the character who shows his platoon mates a picture of the gal he has at home waiting for him.
That said, I was a big fan of Penn’s more restrained and mature Into the Wild, directed 6 years later, so I chalk The Pledge up to practice.