Jack can't handle the truth. Well, the supposed truth at least, when Nicholson plays a retired detective who promises to find a young girl's killer and intensifies his search after he thinks the wrong man has been collared. The real commitment in The Pledge, though, comes from the audience, sworn to sit through actor-turned-sometimes-director Sean Penn's overextended pace and brooding, stylistic verve.
Based on the novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, the whodunit superdowner is slightly more accessible than Penn's previous directorial work (The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard). And the payoff eventually shows up. We swear. It just relies heavily on the inexhaustible charisma of Nicholson, who goes from Jack to wack during his quest for justice. Moments of stunning--though sometimes forced--cinematography and a handful of great performances and cameos (Robin Wright Penn, Aaron Eckhart, Benicio Del Toro, Mickey Rourke) also help to pique enough interest to make this flick worth sticking with.