The Pledge (film)

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

The Pledge
The Pledge 2001 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySean Penn
Produced byMichael Fitzgerald
Screenplay byJerzy Kromolowski
Mary Olson-Kromolowski
Based onThe Pledge
by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
StarringJack Nicholson
Aaron Eckhart
Helen Mirren
Robin Wright Penn
Vanessa Redgrave
Patricia Clarkson
Sam Shepard
Music byKlaus Badelt
Hans Zimmer
CinematographyChris Menges
Edited byJay Lash Cassidy
Clyde Is Hungry Films
Epsilon Motion Pictures
Franchise Pictures
Morgan Creek Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • January 19, 2001 (2001-01-19)
Running time
123 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million[2]
Box office$29.4 million[2]

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.

The film was in competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.


Retired police detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) is seen mumbling to himself, apparently drunk, sitting on a bench outside a disused gas station. The scene then shifts to events in the recent past. The Department has thrown him a retirement party, and the police captain gives Jerry a fishing trip in Mexico as a gift. The party is interrupted by the discovery of a murdered child, Ginny Larsen. Jerry decides to go with another detective, Stan Krolak (Aaron Eckhart), to the scene of the crime.

Jerry delivers the bad news to the child's parents, and the mother Margaret Larsen (Patricia Clarkson) makes Jerry swear on a cross that he will find the killer. A suspect is found the next day. Stan goes in to interview the suspect, Toby Jay Wadenah (Benicio del Toro), a Native American man with mental retardation. During the interview, the man eventually confesses but steals a gun from one of the deputies and commits suicide. To the other detectives, the case is over, but Jerry does not think that Wadenah was the killer.

Jerry is adamant about his pledge to find the killer, and does not go on the fishing trip. Instead, he visits the victim's grandmother, who tells him of the many stories that Ginny told. 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", but it does not resemble Wadenah, and includes a black station wagon and not a red truck drove by Wadenah. He takes the drawing with him.

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 investigations reveal three unsolved and similar cases that Wadenah could not have committed. Jerry presents his research and Ginny's drawing to Captain Pollack (Sam Shepard) and Stan, who are doubtful.

While fishing, Jerry notices a gas station that is located near the center of the similar cases. After buying the gas station, Jerry moves into the house behind it and meets local waitress/bartender Lori (Wright Penn), and her daughter, Chrissy. He becomes a regular and they become friends. One night, Lori shows up at Jerry's house, bruised and battered, and explains her ex (who has a restraining order) attacked her.

Jerry suggests for her and her daughter's safety that they move in with him temporarily and she agrees. Jerry slowly becomes a father figure to her daughter and on one night as he is reading bedtime stories to Chrissy, Lori overhears them and goes to her room to cry, presumably realizing how badly she and her daughter needed a good man like this in their life. Jerry later overhears the crying, enters her bedroom to comfort her, and they end up spending the night together, beginning a romance.

Soon, Chrissy becomes friends with a local pastor, Gary Jackson (Tom Noonan). 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 porcupine hanging on the rear mirror, porcupines being another aspect of Ginny's drawing that Jerry believes to be a clue. Chrissy explains to Jerry that she met a 'wizard' who gave her porcupine candies and told her not to tell her parents they had 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, stages an operation, with Stan's help, to catch him.

A car is shown driving with a toy porcupine hanging from the rear-view mirror. The woman who owns 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 she confronts Jerry angrily about putting her daughter in danger. The car that was shown approaching is seen destroyed in a fiery collision with a freight truck.

Some time later, reprising the first images shown at the beginning, Jerry sits alone on a bench in front of the ruined gas station. Despondent, destitute and drunk, Jerry ends up all alone, 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.

Home VideoEdit

The film was released on DVD and VHS on June 19, 2001.[3]


Box officeEdit

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.[4][5][6][7]

Critical responseEdit

The Pledge received mainly positive reviews from critics. The film has a "certified fresh" score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 124 reviews, with an average rating of 6.88/10. 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."[8] The film also has a score of 71 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 33 critics indicating "Generally favorable reviews."[9]

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."[10] 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."[11]



  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. ^ "Warner's 'Proof of Life,' 'The Pledge' Bring Suspense to VHS/DVD June 19". April 20, 2001. Archived from the original on June 19, 2001. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
  4. ^ (2001-05-15). US directors laud Cannes audiences. BBC News. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  5. ^ (2001-01-25). Legal spat forces Penn film out of Berlin. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  6. ^ The Pledge at Box Office Mojo
  7. ^ Box office / business for 'The Pledge' (2001). IMDb. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  8. ^ The Pledge Movie Reviews, Pictures. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  9. ^ "The Pledge Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  10. ^ Berardinelli, James. Review: The Pledge. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  11. ^ The Pledge :: :: Reviews. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  12. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Pledge". Retrieved October 18, 2009.

External linksEdit