Reviewed by: Curtis D. Smith
Are we living in a moral Stone Age?
Philosopher Christina Sommers charges that today’s young people are suffering from “cognitive moral confusion.” They not only have trouble distinguishing right from wrong—they question whether such standards even exist. The threat this moral relativism poses to society is greater than any external danger. [more…]
|Featuring:||Michael O'Keefe, Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Sam Shepard|
|Producer:||Elie Samaha, Michael Fitzgerald, Sean Penn|
Actor Benicio Del Toro said recently in a television interview that he looks for three things when he considers a film role: A great script, a great cast and a great director.
His bit part as a mentally depraved Indian in “The Pledge” seems to support that philosophy—well, two-thirds of it anyway. The cast and director are firmly in place and seem to do an affable job but the questionable script establishes a chasm between the movie being a December Oscar-bait release and a mid-January toss out. Directed by Sean Penn, and boasting a cast that would make just about any studio executive or director drool, “The Pledge” seems as if it would have it all. And from time to time the story does touch upon greatness, as does Penn’s eye for subject matter, but something apparently got lost in the translation between Friedrich Duerrenmatt’s namesake novel and the bland, distasteful screenplay Penn chose to shoot.
The all-too familiar premise has Detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) at his retirement party just two hours into his last day when a call comes in to his cronies to investigate the brutal murder of a nine-year-old girl. Drawn out of duty to help with the case, Jerry is chosen to inform the parents of the victim’s murder and thus find himself pledging to the broken-hearted mother that he will catch the killer.
However, hot-shot detective Stan Krolak (Aaron Eckhart) squeezes a confession out of a mentally erratic witness (Del Toro) who promptly commits suicide and therefore closes the case. Dissatisfied with Krolak’s conclusion, Jerry sets out to find the real killer and fulfill his vow. His investigation takes him to other small town locations and before long Jerry has put together what looks like a serial case involving three or four eight—and nine-year-old blonde girls who were wearing red dresses when they were murdered. He presents the evidence to his old boss (Sam Shepard) but his theories fall on deaf ears.
Frustrated with the system, Jerry buys a ramshackle gas station near the hub of the crime scenes hoping to someday fill the tank of the would-be murderer and perhaps capture him. But over time the ex-cop finds himself growing comfortable with his new surroundings and a friendship struck between he and a roadside waitress (Robin Wright Penn) starts to put him at ease.
All is well until Jerry realizes his girlfriend’s daughter closely fits the murder victim profile and he subconsciously moves her into the position of being the killer’s live bait. Using information from the last victim’s grandmother (Vanessa Redgrave), a psychologist (Helen Mirren) and the father of a missing girl (Mickey Rourke), Jerry begins creating a scenario the killer can’t resist.
what’s most obvious about this film is that there are gaps in the plot that only a novel could fill, and yet there are several remarkable qualities to what this movie really is: A character study of Jerry. His fishing hobby offers a noticeable parallel to his willingness to use a child for bait and his infrequent senile babbling points toward an inevitable mental breakdown. Also, bouts with alcoholism and chain smoking make for a greatly flawed character who on the surface seems to be just an ordinary, average man.
The film explores the wickedness of child molestation and murder but also delves into the questionable ways in which Jerry goes about solving the case. His decision to sleep with the emotionally vulnerable waitress (which he could have avoided had he not let her live with him) is what starts him down a slippery slope of deceitfulness that worsens with his growing obsession. Rather than find the killer the proper way Jerry is consumed by his vow to find the killer which forces his integrity to slip for the sake of its resolution. In effect, Jerry believes the ends justify the means.
This is why God’s word tells us to exercise integrity in all things—so that we don’t justify our actions by their outcome. Although he seeks a virtuous conclusion to the investigation, the film’s lead character falls victim to his corrupt morals as in Proverbs 11:3 where it says, “the integrity of the upright will guide them, but the falseness of the treacherous will destroy them.”
While Penn and screenwriters Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski have managed to offer a few pioneering ideas in what has become a stale concept, the too-frequent and too-gratuitous display of butchered, bloody bodies of young girls is quite unnecessary.
Perhaps it’s the usual problem that exists between book and film. Typically, things like inner thought, attention to detail and subtlety in books are replaced with long, puzzling stretches of silence, overstated camera shots and blatant transparency in the movies.
Avoiding harsh images and ethics in “The Pledge” is near impossible and were it not for a shrewdly filmed surprise ending that back-handedly solves the protagonist’s problem this predominantly trite film would be a complete waste of time.