Directed by Sean Penn. Written by Jerzy Kromilowski and Mary Olson-Kromilowski. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Aaron Eckhart, Benicio del Toro, Sam Shepard, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Patricia Clarkson, Michael O'Keefe, Mickey Rourke, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Noonan, Costas Mandylor, Pauline Roberts, Dale Dickey, Lois Smith. (R, 124 mins)
I saw THE PLEDGE when it opened in theaters in January 2001, and as it progressed, it started to feel very familiar. I kept thinking I'd just seen numerous elements of the plot in some straight-to-VHS European film a few years prior. And it turns out I did. The 1996 English-language Dutch film THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (starring Richard E. Grant) was an adaptation of the same 1958 novel Das Versprechen, by Swiss mystery writer Friedrich Durrenmatt. Durrenmatt wrote the script for the German thriller ES GESCHAH AM HELLICHTEN TAG (IT HAPPENED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT) and expanded that script into the novel. It was remade for German TV in 1997 and also turned into a 1979 Italian thriller titled LA PROMESSA.
There is no real closure for any characters in THE PLEDGE, a bleak, somber examination of obsession that deserved a better commercial reception than it got, though it's admittedly a tough sell and Warner Bros. probably shouldn't have rolled it out nationwide. But it further established Penn as a maker of challenging, uncompromising films (after THE CROSSING GUARD and his 1991 directing debut THE INDIAN RUNNER) and showcased Nicholson in one of the top performances of his career, which is really saying something. It's a powerful, thought-provoking work, and it's very quietly come around to being regarded by many as one of the great unsung films of its decade.