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
I'm not that crazy about the story, which has been put to film at least twice before. (I think the other movie is The Cold Light of Day.) In the other movie, which was set in one of the Soviet bloc countries, there was also a serial killer after young girls, and the detective makes the morally questionable decision to put a girlfriends daughter unknowingly at risk to use as bait. The swingset for the girl beside the road (where the killer would be sure to see her) was copied over from the novel.
For sheer moviemaking prowess, though, this team of actors and Penn as the director is unbeatable. Every performance comes across with perfect sincerity and you forget you are looking at famous actors. There are some surreal touches as well, when bit players from the early part show up on screen late in the story with non speaking roles.
Four stars. Even if you don't like Jack Nicholson.
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