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The Pledge Reviews

If you're looking for quick thrills, look elsewhere. But if you're in a patient mood and don't mind waiting a good two hours to be reminded just how cruel fate can be, sit yourself down. Sean Penn's adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's 1958 meta-mystery (previously filmed in 1958 as IT HAPPENED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT and in 1996 as COLD LIGHT OF DAY) about one man's pledge to capture a phantom serial killer is smart, somber, characteristically understated and altogether chilling. Penn shifted the action from Switzerland to snowy Nevada, where Detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson), an esteemed homicide detective, sneaks out of his own retirement party when a gruesome call comes in. The mutilated body of an eight-year-old girl has been found in the deep woods, and a mentally challenged Native American (Benicio Del Toro) with a rap sheet was seen running from the crime scene. Ambitious Detective Krolack (Aaron Eckhart) wrings a barely coherent confession out of the suspect, but Black is unconvinced. Bound by his promise to the dead girl's parents (Patricia Clarkson, Michael O'Keefe) that he'll bring the killer to justice, but unable to convince his former colleagues that they've got the wrong guy, Black puts his retirement on hold and embarks on a dark journey that will ultimately leave him alone and on the wrong side of sanity. The plot creeps along at a deliberate pace and has more in common with Euro-chillers like MONSIEUR HIRE, INSOMNIA or Claude Chabrol's icy thrillers than THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But it's a rewarding experience: Black's incipient madness may be developed a little inconsistently, but Nicholson is just fine and his all-star supporting cast, including a seriously drabbed-down Robin Penn Wright, is even better. The film is short on action but heavy on ambiance, and the cumulative effect packs a whopper if you're willing to stop and think about it. Penn, never one to opt for action over thought, clearly expects that his audience will.