The Pledge (film)

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The Pledge
The Pledge 2001 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sean Penn
Produced by Andrew Stevens
Screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski
Mary Olson-Kromolowski
Based on The Pledge 
by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Starring Jack Nicholson
Aaron Eckhart
Helen Mirren
Robin Wright Penn
Vanessa Redgrave
Sam Shepard
Music by Klaus Badelt
Hans Zimmer
Cinematography Chris Menges
Edited by Jay Lash Cassidy
Clyde Is Hungry Films
Epsilon Motion Pictures
Franchise Pictures
Morgan Creek Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • January 19, 2001 (2001-01-19)
Running time
123 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $35 million[2]
Box office $29.4 million[2]

The Pledge is a 2001 American mystery film directed by Sean Penn. The film features an ensemble cast, starring Jack Nicholson, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Shepard, Mickey Rourke, and Benicio del Toro.

It is based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's 1958 novella The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel. Dürrenmatt wrote The Pledge to refine the theme he originally developed in the screenplay for the 1958 German film It Happened in Broad Daylight with Heinz Rühmann.


Retired police detective Jerry Black is seen mumbling to himself, apparently drunk, sitting on a bench outside a defunct gas station. The scene then shifts to events in the recent past. Jerry is ice fishing, then driving to work. After work, he goes to a restaurant, where the Department has thrown him a retirement party. Police Captain Eric Pollack gives Jerry a gift, a trip to go fishing in Mexico. The party is interrupted by the discovery of a murdered young girl named Ginny. Jerry decides to go with another Detective, Stan Krolak to the scene of the crime.

Jerry delivers the bad news to the girl's parents. The mother, Margaret Larsen, makes Jerry swear on a cross that Ginny had made that Jerry will find the killer. A suspect is found the next day. Stan goes in to interview the suspect, Toby Jay Wadenah, who is a Native American man with mental retardation. During the interview, the man eventually confesses, but steals one of the deputies' guns and commits suicide with it. To all of the other Detectives, the case is over. But Jerry does not think that the killer died that night. He is still adamant about his pledge to find the killer, and does not go on the fishing trip the department gave to him. Jerry visits the victim's grandmother, Annalise Larsen, and is directed there by an older woman. The Grandmother tells Jerry that the girl told many stories, and a later visit to one of her friends reveals that Ginny had a friend she called "The Giant". Jerry sees a picture Ginny drew of the Giant that does not resemble the Indian, and Jerry takes the picture.

Jerry goes to Stan, and asks him to reopen the case. Stan refuses, but gets Jerry more information about similar cases in the area. Jerry's further investigation leads him to three unsolved and eerily similar cases that the Native American man could not have committed. Jerry presents these cases to Captain Pollack and Stan, who are doubtful. Jerry shows them the picture of Ginny and the Giant. Jerry once again tells them he is adamant about finding the real killer, and leaves. Jerry rents a cabin and spends some time fishing. He notices a gas station near the lake and likes the location so much he asks the owner, Floyd Cage, if he is interested in selling the place. It is implied, though not explicitly stated, that Jerry also wants to use the gas station in order to track the killer, who he believes (due to Ginny's drawing) drives a black station wagon. Jerry eventually buys the gas station and moves into the small house behind it. Jerry meets a local bartender named Lori and slowly becomes a father figure to her young daughter Chrissy. After Lori has a fight with her ex-husband, she moves in with Jerry.

Soon, Chrissy becomes friends with a local reverend named Gary Jackson. Jerry is uncomfortable about this and begins to think Jackson is the killer. Chrissy is shown meeting a man driving a black car with a toy hedgehog hanging on the rear mirror - hedgehogs being another aspect of Ginny's drawing that Jerry believes to be a clue. Chrissy tells this to Jerry, explaining she met a wizard who gave her little hedgehog candies and who told her not to tell her parents they met - she figured it was OK to tell Jerry, since he is not her father. Jerry realizes this is the killer and, using Chrissy as bait, Jerry stages an operation, with Stan's help, to catch him in the act.

A car is shown driving with a porcupine hanging from the rear-view mirror. The woman who owned the chocolate shop is shown searching for "Oliver", implying that he is the killer. After hours of waiting, Stan and the other police leave. They tell Lori what happened, and, after racing to the place, Lori screams at Jerry about putting her daughter in danger. The car that was shown approaching is seen destroyed in a fiery collision with a freight truck.

As in the first scene, Jerry sits on a bench in front of the defunct gas station, apparently drunk, mumbling to himself that the killer is still out there.



The film was shot mainly on location in the British Columbia interior. While the opening scenes were filmed in Reno, Nevada, the rest of the film was shot in Keremeos, Princeton, Hedley, Merritt and Lytton, all in British Columbia.


Box office[edit]

The Pledge did not perform well at the box office. The film opened in 1,275 theaters and grossed $5,765,347, with an average of $4,521 per theater and ranking #11 at the box office. The film ultimately earned $19,733,089 domestically and $9,686,202 internationally for a total of $29,419,291, below its $35 million production budget.[3][4][5][6]

Critical response[edit]

The Pledge received mainly positive reviews from critics. The film has a "certified fresh" score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 121 reviews with an average rating of 6.8 out of 10. The critical consensus states "Though its subject matter is grim and may make viewers queasy, The Pledge features an excellent, subtle performance by Jack Nicholson." [7] The film also has a score of 71 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 33 critics indicating "Generally favorable reviews."[8]

James Berardinelli gave The Pledge three stars, calling it "clever in the way that it gradually reveals things, but never gives us too much information at one time."[9] Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four and later added it to his Great movies list, writing: "The last third of the movie is where most police stories go on autopilot, with obligatory chases, stalkings and confrontations. That's when The Pledge grows most compelling. Penn and Nicholson take risks with the material and elevate the movie to another, unanticipated, haunting level."[10]



  1. ^ "THE PLEDGE (15)". Warner Bros. British Board of Film Classification. July 26, 2001. Retrieved October 13, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b The Pledge at Box Office Mojo Retrieved October 13, 2013
  3. ^ (2001-05-15). US directors laud Cannes audiences. BBC News. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  4. ^ (2001-01-25). Legal spat forces Penn film out of Berlin. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  5. ^ The Pledge at Box Office Mojo
  6. ^ Box office / business for 'The Pledge' (2001). IMDb. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  7. ^ The Pledge Movie Reviews, Pictures. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-12-22.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Berardinelli, James. Review: The Pledge. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  10. ^ The Pledge :: :: Reviews. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  11. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Pledge". Retrieved 2009-10-18. 

External links[edit]