The night he retires as a Nevada sheriff, Jerry Black pledges to the mother of a murdered girl that he will find the killer. Jerry doesn't believe the police arrested the right man; he discovers this is the third incident in the area in the recent past with victims young, blond, pretty, and small for their age. So he buys an old gas station in the mountains near the crimes in order to search for a tall man who drives a black station wagon, gives toy porcupines as gifts, and calls himself the wizard: clues from a drawing by the dead girl. Jerry's solitary life gives way to friendship with a woman and her small, blond daughter. Has Jerry neglected something that may prove fatal? Written by
Faithful to the book in most regards, the film is excellent, and Nicholson's performance is beyond reproach. While the denouement may have had issues (not with the point or the meaning, but rather the delivery), the film is still outstanding.
Nicholson's relationship with the girl (he is beautiful as an aged father) and his inexorable obsession with the murderer are perfect in the film. Sadly, Penn's pacing is inconsistent, as is the sense of "detective" that Duerenmatt was careful to give his novel: the film's heartbeat ranges from driving to rambling, and most thematically appropriate may have been a measured beat which is lacking here.
Nonetheless, the film is gripping, and captures the point, spirit and feel of the novel perfectly. It may not pull off the trick of being both faithful and profitable, but the film is true, and the acting impeccable.
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