Synopsis by Mark Deming
Sean Penn directed this tense drama of loyalty, honor, and obsession, based on a novel by Friedrich Durrenmatt. Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) is a veteran police detective who lives and works in a small Nevada town. On the day of his retirement, it falls to Jerry to handle an especially unpleasant assignment -- a seven-year-old girl has been brutally murdered, and Jerry has to check out the crime scene, and then tell the girl's parents the awful news. The girl's mother (Patricia Clarkson), understandably distraught, demands to know if the killer will be brought to justice, and Jerry promises her that he will personally see to it, "on my soul's salvation." A younger detective also on the case, Stan Krolak (Aaron Eckhart), thinks he's traced the crime to Toby Jay Wadeneh (Benicio Del Toro), a mentally retarded man who confesses to the murder shortly before killing himself. Stan considers the case closed, but Jerry can't shake his belief that Toby Jay wasn't actually the murderer, and Jerry begins to investigate the case on his own time, over the objections of his former boss, Eric Pollack (Sam Shepard), who reminds Jerry that he's no longer an official member of the police force. Before long, Jerry's personal investigation has taken over his life, and he uncovers evidence that suggests the girl's murder was just one in a series of killings involving young girls and a mysterious man called "the Wizard." When Jerry becomes close to a young single mother, Lori (Robin Wright-Penn), he feels he has reason to believe the murderer may be targeting her eight-year-old daughter, and finds himself using her as a decoy in order to bring the killer to justice. The Pledge marked Jack Nicholson's second starring role in a film directed by Sean Penn following 1995's The Crossing Guard; The Pledge's stellar supporting cast includes Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, Harry Dean Stanton, and Mickey Rourke.