Festival de ‘Usual Suspects’: The Pledge (2001) de Sean Penn

May 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

In 2001 and 2002, Jack Nicholson was invited to Cannes Main Competition with two films in which he portrayed freshly-retired men struggling with a sense of purposelessness and existential impotence. The latter is Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt. The former, Sean Penn’s third directorial feature, The Pledge, a relatively measured mystery drama in which Nevada Detective Jerry Black catches a homicide case a mere six hours before his official retirement: The horrifying rape-murder of a minor in the snowy woods. Pressured by the victim’s beleaguered, distraught mother, Black promises justice. And even after a dubious confession is squeezed out of an intellectually disabled indigenous suspect, and after he ceases to be on The Force, ex-Detective Jerry Black endeavours to honour his oath to the point of insanity. This is where the film begins to falter; right from the opening scene in which a drunk, unkempt Jerry babbles and gesticulates to himself in the Nevada sun (overlaid with images of bird-filled skies), presumably having failed to keep his word, or so he believes. Adopting a circular narrative approach, Penn’s screenplay proceeds to depict the events which lead Jerry from a place of dignity to one of dereliction, gently observing as he finds unlikely love and companionship with Robin Wright Penn and her young daughter, and discovers a renewed sense of worth along the way. As a director, Penn is of the Clint Eastwood school of unfussy Americana and is somewhere near the top of his class. But, quite simply, The Pledge begins and ends woefully, on the very same image, one which features a miscalculated impression of psychosis from Jack Nicholson, in a performance that the late Roger Ebert bafflingly posited as being perhaps his best. Frankly, there is little evidence that Jerry, a seasoned homicide detective, would be traumatised by the continued existence of a child killer to the point of mental debility. Even paired with the destabilising blow of retirement, with which he seems to eventually come to terms, such disappointment being a catalyst for sudden madness is almost a diabolus ex machina. Now, while I do love a good deal of ambiguity, The Pledge’s circular structure implies that answers, insights and truths will be unearthed in service of completing this very narrative circle. From a mystery standpoint, sure, Jerry’s low key investigation does bear fruit, albeit fruit coated in pleasingly stinging dramatic irony. Psychologically speaking though, The Pledge is as corner-cutting and impatient as the detective who cajoles the sketchy (but not necessarily untrue) confession.




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