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I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie when I first saw the DVD cover ... and the general obscurity in the blurb provided didn't fill me with a lot confidence either.  However, not having had any misleading preconceptions about it helped me to just sit back and absorb what was coming to me, and I sort of feel responsible for having to give you some idea of whether or not this might be your kind of movie.  Even if it isn't, it's still worth looking into just so you realise there's an alternative way of enjoying a good story without all the flash and dazzle.

Something is afoot in Reno, Nevada.
This is what you would probably call a "slow movie", which can usually be translated as "boring".    And although I wasn't all that blown away by the plot, I was more than captivated by the many commanding performances given by the actors ... some of which only appear in veritable cameos (namely Mickey Rourke who plays an all-too-convincing grief-stricken father, a role quite unlike anything you've ever seen him perform before).  Jack Nicholson surprises us yet again as he reacts to his own thoughts of searching out for the killer that lives amongst them.  And finally, we get to see Robin Wright Penn (Lori) the way she should have appeared in Forrest Gump ... wearing a nargy shirt and a chipped tooth, for that classic "white trailer-trash" look.

Directed by Sean Penn, he has chosen the path of the character-based storyline, rather than trying to spruce it up with any frenetic car-chase scenes or gun-to-the-head confessions in a darkly lit room.  Since this is strictly dialogue-only territory, the 2 hours+ of this movie allows us to take in the personas of the characters onscreen so you can identify with each one of them, and this is where the power of the movie really lies.  And although there is some suggestion towards the grisly nature of the murders, this only accounts for a couple of minutes in the running time (and you don't get to see anything anyway) - so it perplexes me as to why this was given an R-rating.

Mickey Rourke as you've never seen him.
Spoilers everyone ... avert your eyes!

Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) celebrates his final day as a police detective in his home town of Reno, Nevada.  At his "Gone Fishing" going-away party, he is told that the body of a little girl, Jinny, has been found in the snow and that a suspect was witnessed leaving the scene in a big hurry.  Jack ultimately finds himself in the unenviable position of letting the parents of Jinny know that she has been found.  Jinny's mother then makes Jack swear under the cross (the Pledge) that he will do all he can to find the man who killed their baby.  The police soon catch up with the suspect to which he supposedly confesses to this crime ... but have they really found the murderer, at least for this latest victim?  Jack is ultimately obsessed with searching for the truth that even he can't see what the cost of doing so will be to his friends and his sanity.

Not so unusual ... seeing a psychiatrist to solve a murder.
Quite a remarkable range of images involved here ... from the snow-covered plains of winter to the magically colourful spring and summer time hues.  It'd be hard to describe this vast colour pallette as vibrant, but it is definately of the tonal quality that you would be used to seeing in real-life if you were on the road.  Also, the skintones on all of the actors are actually very natural looking in terms of the reaction to the various climate changes (rather than attempting to block out their faces with uniform makeup) which gives this movie an even more realistic, if not unflattering, appeal that is rarely seen in films of any genre these days.  Resolution is very high with hardly any visible grain and a good contrast in even the nighttime scenes.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful ... as are the murders in this town.
Being a fully-pledged, er fully-fledged Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack you would at least expect some activity from more than just the centre channel.  Well, you do, but you probably won't notice it in the end.  If the word subtle could be used to describe sound then this movie would be it.  There are many obscure ambient noises thrown into this mix that it's hard to even register that they're there, but if anything they quietly enhance Jack's lone quest to finding a killer in their midst.  However, we do get some recognition of split-surround activity with a car or truck passing by here and there.  There are also two occasions (one being quite unpredictable) that you are scared out of your wits after you pretty much decided to turn the volume way up beforehand - groan! - and this is usually where you find the subwoofer coming into play, too.  The dialogue is thankfully clear and strong enough to be heard without a lot of strain or effort.

There is only the trailer and a sparse cast & crew biography list.  If I hadn't read the cover I wouldn't have known that Sean Penn was involved, so maybe a short featurette would have been nice from the man behind the camera.

Jerry consoles Lori
If dramas are your thing, then I guess this disc is worthy of sitting in your collection.  But being the gung-ho action-junkie that I am, I'm afraid that other people of this ilk might find that this is too "country" for them.  The lack of any extras makes this even more difficult to warrant purchasing, but I wouldn't discount this movie just because of the lack of gunplay and explosions because you would most definately miss the fine acting that is delivered here.