On the day of his retirement, Nevada homicide detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) learns that the body of a murdered eight-year-old girl is found in the snow-blanketed mountains. The reluctant retiree is unable to step aside. Jerry offers his expertise at the crime scene, and takes it upon himself to deliver the devastating news to the victim’s parents.
After swearing on his soul’s salvation to find the killer for the child’s inconsolable mother, Jerry finds himself the only one who believes the apprehended mentally retarded suspect is not the culprit. He becomes obsessed with finding the true killer.
Rather than examine the qualities and the neglects of this film (and there are both), let me just give a rundown of what you will see and hear. 1. We see a gory crime scene with lots of crimson red covering snow, and finally the dead, mutilated body of a murdered 8-year-old girl. We learn that she had been raped and her throat is cut. 2. Later, we see photos of other dead little girls, with lots of blood. 3. The interrogated suspect is mentally challenged and coached into saying he committed the crime. He grabs a policeman’s gun in an attempt to escape, then puts the gun barrow in his mouth and shoots. We see blood, brains and even a gold tooth splattered on the wall behind him, then his lifeless body, with blood running down the walls. 4. During all of the scenes featuring the cops, we hear profanity. The male and female leads also use profanity. 5. We see grieving parents completely fall apart as they discover their beloved child has been destroyed by a demented soul. 6. The subject matter is about a retired policeman, obsessed with catching the real killer. He even puts another little girl at risk, using her as bait. And the subject of pedophilia is central to the storyline. 7. At one point, a gentle Christian man is suspected to be the deviant. Hey, why not? They’re the usual suspects in today’s who-done-its. 8. When the little girl wants to go to church, the lead cautions her that while some believe that Bible stories are true, others believe them to be fairy tales. There is a condescension toward Christianity and Christians throughout the film. 9. We see a man go mad and another burned to death in a car crash. 10. An ex-husband has returned and beat his wife. We do not see the act, but the aftermath of seeing her injured and sobbing uncontrollably is harrowing. Folks, do you really need a review after that? But Phil, is Jack good in it? Of course he’s good. He’s Jack Nicholson. He’s been doing this for forty years, he should be good. Does it hold your attention? Of course. You put cameo performances by well-known actors in a prurient detective story, adding the intense style of director Sean Penn and you’re going to have an absorbing, if not always tightly knitted film. One that the audience will find difficult to not look at. However, while leaving the theater and, for the rest of the night, I felt depressed. “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” If a film is well-made, but the content goes against that verse, should we attend?