A little girl is found brutally murdered in the woods. A suspect is apprehended, quickly admits to the crime, and then kills himself. One Detective doesn't believe that he is the true killer, and goes beyond the realm of obsession to track down the real monster.
Thus is the basic premise of The Pledge, a movie that on the surface looks like it is a typical serial killer film, but deeper down shows that it is a bland and meaningless film. As my enraged mother (enraged because she liked the film and I said, "It sucks.") points out, The Pledge is not about his quest for the serial killer as much as it is about his obsession about the quest, but I still see this film as a self-involved and utterly boring waste of craft. Sure, I see what my mother is getting at, and I see the true point of the film, but I don't see it as much of a point, and I don't see that point as being very entertaining.
There are a lot of psychological films out there that are great, but The Pledge is not one of them. It is trying to be but just as its fingers try to find the next rung on the ladder, they miss and the entire thing goes crashing down to the ground. Even the most-character based films rely on a plot; The Pledge allows its plot to take a back seat to the Detective's obsession. All of this would be nice as well if the story wasn't so damned boring. After the initial suspect is taken care of, the story goes into its own little world, where the Detective buys up a small gas station in the middle of nowhere, starts a friendly relationship with a waitress and her young daughter (the next victim, maybe?), and goes fishing. All of this is meant to show just how involved he is with the search for the killer, but that doesn't transfer into entertainment for the audience. Watching the Detective read a story to the little girl, catch fish, or fill up a tank of gas for the tenth time gets old, especially when the plot that everyone came to the theater to see is moving along at snail's pace. This is where the real problem lies; every single person in that theater came expecting a thrilling pursuit of a serial killer, and every single person in that theater got quite the opposite. The Pledge is just plain out boring.
Still, even as slow and frustrating as the film is, I held onto a glimmer of hope that the ending would be thrilling, maybe even a little exciting. The ending would have to wrap up with a confrontation between the Detective and the serial killer, right? Right? I don't want to give anything away to the people who read this review and will still inevitably see this film, but it's hard to say that this ending is even more inconclusive than anything you can dream of without hinting at something. This does not mean that I am telling you that the serial killer gets away, or that the Detective gives up, or whatever, but you will be surprised in a negative way when you see how The Pledge concludes.
Let's sum up what I have said so far: I could skip right from the first ten minutes to the last ten minutes and not miss a single thing, and still be disappointed with the twenty minutes that I wasted.
There are a few good things about The Pledge, though, even if they don't save this film. Jack Nicholson's performance is outstanding. He plays an obsessed yet loving person, and his charisma bulges at the walls of this decrepit films. I really don't blame him for choosing to make this movie; I'm sure it looked good on paper. Furthermore, Sean Penn's direction is very noteworthy, so that adds another note of confidence to the film. Sadly, neither of these men realized how poorly The Pledge would transfer to film, and how cunningly deceitful the marketing campaign would be.
Higher expectations did not help The Pledge, which even with the lowest expectations possible would still present some unwanted surprises. Good direction and good acting all around does not save this psychological serial killer film from being deader than the movie's victims, which ultimately turns out to be the movie's audience.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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