A very well-done picture from director Sean Penn that didn't catch on with audiences, but went on to play at the Cannes film festival, "The Pledge" stars Jack Nicholson as detective Jerry Black. As the film opens, we find that he's retiring from the Reno, NV police department, but not without going to work on his last day on the job. During a retirement party, Jerry finds out that there has been a murder and a young girl was the victim.
After pledging that he will find the killer, the police run into a local man with mental problems (Benicio Del Toro of "Traffic") who they believe is the man responsible. Although his boss (Sam Shepard, All the Pretty Horses) and arrogant young partner (Aaron Eckhart, Erin Brockovich) think he's wrong, Jerry believes that the man that they have in custody is not the real attacker.
Jerry decides to go undercover, continuing his desire to find the person responsible and fufill his promise to find who did it. He buys a small gas station and befriends a young, battered mother (Robin Wright-Penn) and her daughter. Although the relationship between the two seems normal, things are not quite what they seem.
Some elements of "The Pledge" have certainly been seen before in other similar dramas, but Penn's film does something a little different, focusing mainly on the thoughts, intentions and actions of Jerry. Nicholson also gives one of his very best performances in quite some time, bringing incredible subtlety and detail to the role. There's quite a few impressive supporting performances in the film, as well - Wright-Penn is excellent, as well as Helen Mirren and Patricia Clarkson. Also adding to the film greatly is the stunning cinematography of Chris Menges. The way charaters are captured in the 2.35:1 frame, with the crisp snow covering the action, is often haunting and powerful.
"The Pledge" is rarely an easy film to watch as it is honestly a depressing and rather grim feature, but I must say that Penn did a terrific job and has brought some phenomenal actors who are all excellent.
VIDEO: Warner Brothers presents "The Pledge" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen on a dual-layer disc. This is an excellent presentation that is slightly above and beyond even the usual excellent work from the studio. It stands as really one of the better transfers from Warner, along with titles like "Red Planet". Sharpness and detail are really wonderful - there's frequently an almost remarkable level of detail to the image and an almost "three-dimensional" feel for many scenes in the film.
This is the part of the review where I usually talk about the problems that I found with the presentation. This is going to be a very short part of this review, as I found nearly nothing to complain about. I noticed one or two very minor speckles on the print used, but that was it. One or two little speckles. I noticed no pixelation and an instance or two of very slight edge enhancement, but no other flaws. Shadow detail and black level were both excellent and flesh tones remained accurate and natural.
The film's color palette remains subdued. There are scenes later in the movie that have a more natural, brighter look. While the earlier scenes are snowy, the later scenes aren't,showing the deep greens of the trees perfectly. Overall, this is excellent work from Warner Brothers.
SOUND: "The Pledge" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The movie is a dialogue-driven drama and, as such, it doesn't have much in the way of active sound use. There are a few sequences where surrounds are subtly and smartly used, but these sequences are few and far between. Hans Zimmer's very strong score sounds impressively clear and full throughout the picture, adding to the emotions and tension of the film. Dialogue, the focus of the film, sounded clear and easily understood throughout.
MENUS:: Basic, non-animated film-themed menus.
Final Thoughts: "The Pledge" is a compelling, very well-acted picture that is recommended, although more as a rental. I think many who are fans of the genre will be satisfied with a viewing, but I'm not sure if anyone will want to watch it more than once. Warner Brothers has provided excellent video quality and good sound, but the extras section remains definitely lacking.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 94/A = (376/400 possible points)
Audio: 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Extras: 69/D+ = (207/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C- = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B