Generally favorable reviews - based on 33 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 28 out of 33
  2. Negative: 0 out of 33
  1. 91
    One of the most aggressively ambiguous pictures of the year. There is a certain power to that.
  2. 88
    Penn and Nicholson take risks with the material and elevate the movie to another, unanticipated, haunting level.
  3. 88
    Not a film for all tastes, but it's a considerable artistic achievement.
  4. Reviewed by: Jay Carr
    In its dark, relentless, devastatingly ironic way, The Pledge is an exhilarating movie, partly because it isn't afraid to be genuinely challenging.
  5. Why on earth didn't Warner Bros. release this movie in time for Oscar consideration? Sure, it's bleak, depressing, sometimes painful to watch. But it would have been one of the best pictures of the year, and Nicholson (who hasn't done work of this caliber since "The Crossing Guard") might have been on the podium again.
  6. If Penn really lets these actors sing, his watchful camera also knows how to respect their silences.
  7. 80
    Penn's own gifts as an actor seem, in turn, to bring out the best in Nicholson, as well as the rest of the cast.
  8. 80
    In crafting a fierce, fragmented, downbeat film about a character who makes the wrong decision as a man by being right as a cop, Penn flies in the face of what sells in Hollywood. Godspeed.
  9. It's not hard to see why actors love working with Penn, even in the smallest roles; he lets them speak monologues even when they're saying nothing at all.
  10. Not a pleasant film, but it is deeply, scarily rewarding.
  11. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Nicholson is outstanding as he gradually but tellingly sketches in aspects of a man driven by a mission that outstrips his instincts as a professional lawman.
  12. 75
    Works best as a mood piece — the mood, however, is grim.
  13. A rare thriller - and a rare American film - that centers on both dramatic and moral issues, crises of conscience. And thanks to a superb central performance by Nicholson as detective Black, it's a film that compels, thrills and ends up coming very close to tragedy.
  14. The acting is excellent and Penn reconfirms his remarkable talent for muted, understated filmmaking that focuses on character and dialogue rather than spectacle and sensationalism.
  15. Jack Nicholson in a performance that ranks among his best, yet leaves you feeling unfulfilled as never before.
  16. It is understatement to say that Nicholson does some of the finest work of his career here, easily equaling "The Shining" for gargoyle monstrousness and "As Good as It Gets" for tortured humanism.
  17. Sets off depth charges of the psyche.
  18. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    The movie wouldn't be imaginable without its commanding star. Nicholson is in virtually every scene underplaying to great effect
  19. Nicholson is terrific here, in a role that demands he act, rather than just be Jack.
  20. Penn is a true talent, but there's just enough languid pretension to The Pledge to make you wonder if he's ultimately more interested in parading his promise as a director than in fulfilling it.
  21. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    Short on action but heavy on ambiance, and the cumulative effect packs a whopper if you're willing to stop and think about it. Penn, never one to opt for action over thought, clearly expects that his audience will.
  22. Though at times it threatens to meander off, Penn's movie fulfills its destiny as an alienated fable of justice and luck, personified by Jack in the twilight of his iconicity, babbling to himself at the crossroads of nowhere.
  23. Reviewed by: Robert Horton
    Sometimes feels like an acting class gone berserk, with Penn indulging his high-powered cast
  24. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    Fitfully haunting and impressive: a little less loitery and opaque and it might have been a classic.
  25. A nervy as well as somber piece of work, not only for the way it confounds and even frustrates certain genre expectations, but also -- and especially -- for the way it confronts the viewer with the moral implications of that frustration.
  26. It's unspeakably morbid, and never adds up to be something special.
  27. 65
    Luckily, Penn's attentive directing and Nicholson's layered acting render The Pledge's occasionally questionable story permutations secondary to enjoying this emotionally powerful film of rare and grave subtlety.
  28. 63
    The solemn, morose tone of The Pledge also guarantees a quick box office death: This is essentially a movie about bad things happening to good people, and if you have any interest in seeing this beautifully made bummer, don't wait too long.
  29. A forced march toward certain disaster, a scenario only passionate believers in predestination are likely to savor.
  30. The problem isn't a lack of substance, and certainly not a dearth of talent, but a shortage of fun.
  31. Cares not a whit for such arbitrary concepts as justice, crime or punishment. It understands the relativism of right and wrong and takes a kind of perverse pleasure in reminding us that there are some things we'll never know.
  32. Reviewed by: Marrit Ingman
    A surprisingly uneven and perhaps even mediocre character drama.
  33. 40
    Just a bad movie, with more bits of good acting and flashes of director's invention than you get in most bad movies.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 34 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 9 out of 13
  2. Negative: 2 out of 13
  1. Aug 28, 2014
    I can understand why The Pledge is oft-overlooked in Nicholson's career. He gives an above-average performance, backed by decent directionI can understand why The Pledge is oft-overlooked in Nicholson's career. He gives an above-average performance, backed by decent direction from Sean Penn. Full Review »