Jack Nicholson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jerry Black in The Pledge.
As I've said before Jack Nicholson whose later career is somewhat problematic. Thankfully Nicholson never has become like De Niro or Pacino who frequently just don't care in their performances, he tends to give it a try, but sometimes that is a problem as he just seems to be given Carte blanch by many directors. In James L. Brooks's films and in the Departed as well Nicholson seemed to be allowed to do whatever he wanted filling his performances with an excessive amount of his Nicholson trademarks. It seems it might take a director to really say no to Nicholson when he starts over doing it, and it is quite amusing that Sean Penn the chronic over actor is one director to stop Nicholson from overacting.
Nicholson as the recently retired police detective Jerry Black forgets all of his mannerisms and buckles down to honestly find a character here. The detective on the very night of his retirement party goes on an investigation of the murder of a young girl, and Jerry ends up being the one to tell her parents about her death. Nicholson in these early scenes doesn't have to stand out in front here instead he really dials down his style. Nicholson shows himself certainly, but mostly he plays it close to the bone portraying the realistic reactions in the man as he sees the horrible crime. Nicholson doesn't rush the emotions here instead using subtly to really let them resonate.
Nicholson plays Jerry as a mostly quiet man who observes much of the time, and he does this very well showing perhaps his time as a detective. Nicholson is effective as Jerry is very often around very emotional people speaking, and Jerry must be the listener who contains himself for the most part. Nicholson is quite strong in internalizes the emotions in Jerry portraying that what he sees as moving him most certainly, yet there is the distance one would expect from the career detective who would spend his career with dealing with such situations. He does well in establishing that Jerry has been at his game for sometime, although he slowly works toward showing that he is probably moving a little too far with this case.
After failing to break the case quickly the film still follows him as he seems like he is settling into his retirement but is in fact still working on the case of the killer that everyone else thinks has long since been solved. Nicholson is very good as he shows a bit of a tender side when he befriends a single mother. Nicholson makes Jerry a man of two minds here quite well as he both honestly does wish to befriend the mother and her child, but all the while does harbor another plan that is far less noble. Nicholson is excellent in the manner which he shows a genuine concern and even a happiness as he spends time with them, but still he suggests that laying on in the back of his mind at all times is his desire to catch the killer even if it means using the child as bait.
This leads to the point of the film which is rushed and unfortunately it does adversely effect Nicholson's portrayal of Jerry's character arc. Suddenly there is a rush to use the child directly as bait and catch the killer, and it all happens much to fast with not nearly enough build up. Jerry is quite despondent and obsessed even more than before which is not properly built up to due to the way the film moves so quickly to the conclusion, which apparently was done this way due to production problems. It isn't long till Jerry is nothing more than a babbling mess thanks to the mess he made of everything from his refusal to stop. Nicholson isn't bad at all in terms of portraying Jerry's current state but there is something lost since the film forces his character to change too fast.
It is a shame that the film was not properly finished as it leaves both the film and Nicholson's performance less than what they might of been. I don't want to write this performance off though as this is an excellent performance for about eighty percent of the film. Even when the film does falter Nicholson still stays solid even if he can't maneuver the changes in his character perfectly due to the shortcoming of the film. This still is a notable performance by the great Nicholson as we see him really tone himself down to give an interesting and compelling characterization that never just relies on his old tricks. I do think this could have gone down as one of his very best performance if the film had stayed consistent. Nicholson nevertheless gives a strong quiet portrayal with some moments of real power within it.