(out of 5)
Jack Nicholson plays a retiring police officer whose small town is shocked by the rape and murder of a little girl on the night of his retirement party. Deciding to go in for just one more case, he meets the parents of the victim and vows to her heartbroken mother (Patricia Clarkson) that he will find the killer of her little girl no matter what it costs. The police round up a suspect (Benicio Del Toro) who conveniently dies, but Nicholson isn’t convinced that he was the man who did it. Buying a store near the place where the girl was killed, he befriends a single woman (Robin Wright) whose little girl might be the next victim. Unethical as it may be, Nicholson decides that setting the little girl as bait isn’t such a bad idea for catching the perpretator of this and many other heinous crimes. It soon becomes apparent, however, that his obsession with solving the mystery might end up getting in the way of actually solving it. Sean Penn’s latest directorial effort has a nifty screenplay going for it, but his overly stylistic direction doesn’t hide the fact that its main plot machinations are typical and easy to spot. The fact that the mood isn’t just a background for the story but the actual story itself makes it all come off as highly pretentious and, eventually, boring. Those who like a more typical thriller will be totally put off by the ending, for why would you sit through a cop thriller if it’s just going to turn into The Ballad of The Sad Café? Great acting from an all-star cast is a plus, particularly a wonderful scene where Helen Mirren plays a child psychologist.
Directed by Sean Penn
Cinematography by Chris Menges
Production Design by Bill Groom
Costume Design by Jill M. Ohanneson
Film Editing by Jay Cassidy