In fact the novella by the Swiss author Friedrich Duerrenmatt, to which this screenplay is pretty much true, I guess (I've only read the Wikipedia synopsis) is subtitled "Requiem for the Detective Novel," and moreover it has a framing device which clues in the reader right away that his/her expectations should be held on a tight leash. This movie lacks similar warning labels, a flaw for which I'm knocking off a star as it inevitably makes people mad and confused (see some other user reviews). Furthermore not everyone wants to spend two hours on an existential parable. I wasn't really prepared for it myself, and when it was over I had a period where I thought Sean Penn had played an irritating prank on me, sort of like someone who tells you a long involved joke with a really stupid punch line. But when I had thought about it a few minutes I developed a better appreciation of the philosophical issues that the movie was raising. To give you a sense of those issues: when Victor Frankl was in a Nazi death camp, he had written a philosophical manuscript, and another prisoner asked him what the point of this was, since they were probably all going to die there and the manuscript would be forgotten. Frankl replied, "What kind of value system would I have to have, if I let my actions depend on whether I was going to get killed by Nazis and whether anyone was going to read the manuscript?" I admit to being hazy on the details of this story, but I am confident that I am getting the general idea. This movie follows detective-story conventions up to a point, and the point comes about ten minutes before the end of the movie. (Expect bigger and bigger spoilers as this review progresses.) Jerry Black is on his last day as sheriff of Reno, Nevada, land of ice fishing, Norwegians and hockey fans (the screenplay was written for Minnesota) and is ready to retire and go down to Mexico and fish, when he sits in on the botched arrest and interrogation of a mentally challenged Indian charged with the murder of a little girl. His successor has gotten a confession and is happy with the result. Jerry, who has sworn on the cross to the girl's mother to catch the killer, doesn't get on his plane. He goes out and interviews some big stars in cameo roles, and works out that there is a serial pedophile murderer out there, and figures out pretty much where he must live and some other things about him. Nobody else is willing to get on the trail, so Jerry devotes his life to the pursuit; he buys a live-in gas station / store and starts watching for suspects. He meets a woman (Lori, played by Robin Wright) with an abusive husband and a daughter in the predator's target zone; they move in with him, and he starts using the daughter as bait. There is a disturbing parallel between the way he grooms the daughter for her role and the way the predator himself must operate. It's not that he doesn't care for the daughter - he does - but he is taking clearly unethical risks with her, without cluing in the mother. In a usual movie, that would be enough of an issue. Also his obsession seems to be undermining his mental balance. Finally, after some red herrings, we get to the point (it is now fifteen minutes before the end of the movie) where the predator (identity unknown to Jerry) is expected to come for the girl. Jerry brings in his skeptical sheriff buddy with a SWAT team to surround the area, they wait, and - And the predator doesn't come. (Because, as we know, but nobody else in the movie realizes, he has had a fatal auto accident on the way there.) Jerry now loses everything. His cop friends write him off as a "drunk and a clown." Lori hates him and leaves. So far as he knows he has completely failed; the killer is still out there; his mind goes; he is left drinking and mumbling to himself in the ruins of his life. THE END. You can see how existential this all is. You try to live your life, accomplish something, catch the killer, roll a rock up the hill like Sisyphus; you give everything; and then something absurd happens and everything gets taken away from you, leaving you without even the knowledge that you've accomplished anything (if you have). That's life. That's mortality. That's what Stoics would say we just have to accept. I actually pretty much appreciate the point. And it was all done very competently by the ensemble. So I'm very glad I saw it. But if I hadn't had a Wikipedia article on Duerrenmatt on hand, as well as some previous encounters with postwar existentialist European thought, boy, would I have been grumpy about the whole thing.
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
A retiring police detective pledges to catch the killer of a young child.
October 12, 2020