Tuesday, January 23, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 80



Jackis back as a detective in ‘The Pledgei

By Ken Fountain
Senior Staff Writer

Every few years, Jack Nicholson takes a break from his cartoonish, over-the-top persona to give a film performance that reminds us why he is still one of our greatest actors. One of those performances is in his latest collaboration with director Sean Penn, The Pledge.

In this dark psychological drama, Nicholson plays Jerry Black, a retiring Reno, Nev., police detective who during his last day on the job investigates the brutal rape and murder of a young girl. After he breaks the news to the victimis family, the mother exacts from him a promise "on your soulis salvation" to find the killer.

A suspect is quickly apprehended: a mentally impaired Native American (played by Benicio Del Toro, in a creepy performance completely unlike his role in Traffic). It seems the case is closed.

Jack Nicholson returns to the screen, minus catchphrases, in the new Sean Penn film The Pledge. Nicholson stars as a retiring Reno detective on the trail of a killer.

Ralph Nelson/
Tri-Star Pictures

But Black is unconvinced, and despite the fact that heis no longer a cop, he continues poking around, learning that there have been two similar murders in recent years.

His search leads him to a small town in Nevadais fishing country, where he buys a gas station and keeps his eye out for suspects. He also becomes involved with a waitress (played by the directoris wife, Robin Wright Penn, appearing even less glamorous than she did in Unbreakable) who happens to have a daughter who matches the profile of the victims.

While it may seem the film is just a routine serial murder thriller, the real business of The Pledge is to depict the psychological toll Black pays. Nicholson movingly plays a lonely man who allows his search for a possibly phantom killer to become a personal obsession that gets in the way of his making any true human contact.

The filmis resolution, while heartbreaking, seems somewhat forced, unlike the previous Penn/Nicholson effort, the excellent The Crossing Guard. Still, The Pledge stands as an above-average film that gives Nicholson a platform to showcase his ability to convey the hidden pain of a common man.

The Pledge

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Benicio Del Toro
Rated: R

*** 1/2 (of five)

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