ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  sean penn

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  124 minutes

RELEASED  -  21 january 2001

DISTRIBUTOR  -  warner bros.

OFFICIAL SITE  -  the pledge

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $45,000,000
the pledge - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from the pledge at

buy the dvd from the pledge at

a policeman in a small mid-western town promises the mother of a murdered child that he will capture the killer, and he soon finds himself devoting all his energy to fulfilling this pledge.

jack nicholson's secretary in the movie, "jean," is played by director sean penn's mother, actress eileen ryan.


picture from the pledge

picture from the pledge

picture from the pledge


one out of four possible stars

With a story which can only be described as deliberate, The Pledge is a film which revels in its ability to tell its story with few words and fewer. Good performances all around make this film worth watching, but it's also pretty depressing. And unfortunately, it loses steam by the beginning of the third act. Its plodding pace can be tolerated for a while, but as the film never goes goes beyond this laborious pace, it's hard to appreciate the positives in this film. And there are a few valuable aspects of this film which make the experience of watching this film not a total waste.

First and foremost, the performances in this film are very respectable. Considering the strange pace of the film, it's the performances that will keep you viewing this film, if in fact, you decide to view it. Because it's tailored to a very specific audience: fans of Jack Nicholson, independent feature fans, and people who love Sean Penn. if you're looking for the Jack Nicholson of Five Easy Pieces or As Good as it Gets, get in another line. And if you'd like to see an independent film like Pulp Fiction or The Royal Tenenbaums, this is the wrong film for you. With the usually off-center Sean Penn helming this film, this film can only be viewed as another weird trip into the mind of sean penn.

Not only is his filmmaking (his directing efforts) strange, but the choices he makes in film roles are continuosly baffling. One moment, he declares to the media that he's through with acting and that the profession no longer holds any appeal, and the next, he's starring in a main-stream Hollywood film. It may be this flip-flopping of opinions which influenced the making of this film. Penn seemed to be on an "independent film" slant because the ending to this film is anything but typical of a hollywood film. And concerning the performances in the film, it's fair to say that these actors were given some more than challenging material to deal with and the characters they brought to life were interesting and three-dimensional.

A small yet viable role was played by Patricia Clarkson, who is the mother of a little girl who is brutally murdered. She's also a religious fanatic who makes Jack Nicholson's character swear on his life and the bible and a few other religious things that he'll find the person who killed her daughter (hence the title of the film). It can be said that there are good performances all around in this film and that they are probably the largest positive. Perhaps the detailed acting went hand in hand with the slow pacing of the film, but whatever the reason, Sean Penn was able to conjure up some powerful characters for this film.

Though it's possible that you could place Jack Nicholson in an episode of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and he'd do an outstanding job. Fine performances aside though, the pace of this film many times overpowers any value that that the actors are able to bring to the story. It's not just that the pace is slow, it's that the events and turning points in the film do not always fall in line with the idea of a "three act structure." Allowing for the fact that this film is miles outside the standard way of making films (the Hollywood way), it's still hard to create a viable story if it's not structured right. And although this film does have a beginning, middle, and end, it's pacing isn't smooth. The storytelling doesn't seem to follow a smooth beat.

It's like a band without a metronome. The movie gets to it's important information when it feels like it. Now this could be the result of more than one thing. The story itself might have been faulty. Or it might have been that the editing threw the balance and flow of the story off. Whatever the reason, this film isn't smooth. The transitions are rough and they don't always make sense. In addition, the look and feel of the film changes from a cold wintery setting to a dry, almost desert like environment. I feel that the filmmakers should have stuck with the former, given the dark tone of the story. As the film progresses, and the sun shines brighter and brighter, it feels as though the set decorator and the art director made some bad decisions. Perhaps the location scouter should share some of the blame as well.

Of course, if the filmmakers were looking to contrast the nice weather with the dark story, they certainly succeeded. Of course, this topic might not have even been an issue if the story and pacing had been on target. It was easy to notice the peripheral elements to this film, like location, so perhaps the story itself is at fault. If anything, this film suffers from having some elements that work, and some that don't, creating a film that's successful only if you admire the performers. The story is a dark one, and I don't think I'll divulge too many secrets here when I say that it's pretty depressing. It's definitely not an uplifting story. It's not even one of those "everything went bad but it was for the best" type plots either. By the end of the film, nobody's circumstances have improved and most of the characters are in more dire straights than they had been at the start of the film. If it's a depressing and disjointed thriller you're looking for, go no further, The Pledge hits the mark square in the face

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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