A film review by Craig J. Koban February 8, 2012
MAN ON A LEDGE
2012, R, 102 mins.
2012, R, 102 mins.
Nick: Sam Worthington /
Lydia: Elizabeth Banks /
Jack: Edward Burns /
Joey: Jamie Bell /
Angie: Genesis Rodriguez /
David: Ed Harris /
Suzie: Kyra Sedgwick
very specifically titled MAN ON A LEDGE is a new thriller that’s
a P.W.P. effort, or a film that contains a premise-without-payoff.
It has a decent cast, economical and straightforward direction, and
is legitimately taut, suspenseful and intriguing for about its first sixty
or so minutes. It also has a
compelling narrative hook that keeps you involved and maintains your
interest. The real dilemma of
the film is that its initially absorbing premise is not able to maintain a
level of modest believability under simple scrutiny.
MAN ON A LEDGE contains far, far too many individual
plotlines that become too preposterously contrived and convenient for
their own good, so much so that, by the end of the film, you gain a sense
that its novel premise has been undone by its own increasing
kind of a shame, because the film does indeed open strongly: We meet Nick
Cassidy (Sam Worthington) as he checks into the Roosevelt Hotel and
proceeds to a room at the top floor.
After the bellboy has settled him in, Nick relaxes with some
overpriced room service. After
he finishes his meal he opens a window, climbs to the ledge that rests
twenty-one stories above ground, and prepares himself for what appears to
be his own suicide. A crowd
forms below, the police are called in, and the media quickly swoons in for
breaking news coverage. One
cop in particular, Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns), shows up on seen and
tries to talk the deranged Nick down, but to no avail.
Nick insists that the only person he’ll talk to is a
semi-disgraced police negotiator named Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), who
is on a recent leave of absence after failing to convince a depressed
policeman not to jump off of the Brooklyn Bridge.
becomes very clear very early on in the story that Nick is most certainly not
a suicidal man. In sprinkled
flashbacks we learn that he was an ex-cop turned convict after he was
arrested, tried and convicted to Sing Sing for the apparent robbery of a
$40 million dollar diamond from a highly affluent businessman, David
Englander (Ed Harris). While
in prison Nick learns of his father’s death and pleads to attend his
funeral on an armed guarded day pass.
He does manage to get his wish, but in the aftermath of the funeral
he manages to escape custody, secure a getaway car, find new clothes, and
make it to Manhattan and to the Roosevelt, all without attracting
attention. Eat your heart out, Ethan Hunt..
to Lydia, Nick being on the ledge has nothing to do with him wanting to
kill himself; it’s more or less a distraction to keep the crowds,
police, and media below occupied while his real plan is being implemented.
He has always maintained his innocence from the diamond theft
charges and believes that the unscrupulous Englander not only set him up
for the charges and conviction, but that he still actually possesses the
diamond as part of a corrupt insurance fraud scam.
Proof of this would be enough to ensure that Nick’s conviction
would be overturned, so he enlists the aid of his brother, Joey (Jamie
Bell) and his girlfriend, Angie (the curvy Genesis Rodriguez) to break
into Englander’s ultra-fortified and secure building next door to the
Roosevelt in order to locate the diamond and procure Nick’s innocence.
Unfortunately, the heist is beset by a series of setbacks and time
is increasingly not on Nick’s side.
anything, I like how the film’s Danish director, Asger Leth, manages to
infuse a sense of understated style in the proceedings, which allows for
the film’s tension to generate more naturally and not out of any cheap
directorial pallor tricks. The pacing of the film is swift and secure as a result as it
fluidly segues back and forth between timelines to the point where we are
never left confused as to the particulars.
MAN OF A LEDGE never browbeats the audience with obvious aesthetic
flourishes; rather, it finds a way of drumming up viewer anxiety with a
individual performances find the right notes as well: Worthington has
always been an underrated actor in terms of effectively underplaying his
various roles in his career, and here he has the thankless task of
essentially being stuck to the ledge of a building for well over 90
minutes and create a genuine portrayal of a desperate man that was wronged
and now will stop at nothing to prove his innocence.
Banks proves to be a nice compliment to Worthington; she’s always
been noted for her comedic roles, but she has a poise for grounding just
about any character she portrays, which is true to Lydia here as well.
I also found the characters played by Bell and Rodriguez sort of
interestingly against type as far as heist films go: they are neither
completely sure of themselves nor are they mindless amateurs at what they
are attempting. Their planned
heist does not go down with flawless precision.
MAN ON A LEDGE gets burdened by the enormity of its huge and questionable
lapses in common sense throughout. It
quickly becomes one of those films that you begin to develop migraines
just thinking about all its logical gaffes: Like, for instance, how
Nick’s entire plan for comeuppance is predicated on him escaping armed
guard at his father’s funeral. Not
only that, but it’s also required that he makes it to the Manhattan
hotel to check in and be where he needs to be without any possible
detection by New York’s finest (apparently, no cop on the streets, after
an APP, is able to recognize Nick). Then there are other cockamamie plot elements, like how the
shrewd and cunning Lydia is never able to notice that Nick is talking
through an earpiece to his heist team, or the fact that he’s wearing one
in the first place. Then
there is the actions of Englander that never once makes a hill of beans
worth of sense, as he removes – at one point – the diamond from a
meticulously secure safe so that he can…put it in his pocket,
just when it appears that Joey and Angie are close to nabbing it.
Wouldn’t it have been safer in the…safe?
resolution of MAN ON A LEDGE is almost more difficult to swallow than most
of its aforementioned plot holes, and the final act is so rushed, so
terribly convenient, and so mindlessly handled that you get the impression
that the makers backed themselves into a corner and had no real idea of
how to provide for a satisfactory climax within its final fifteen minutes.
The loyalties of some characters are also telegraphed too obviously
(it’s pretty easy to spot the dirty cops from the good ones early on
here) and other characters are set up nonchalantly, but when you have,
say, actors like William Sadler playing a hotel bellboy in a movie then
you just know that he’ll have more function in the story than just being
a bellboy (it’s a bad case of casting tipping off a would-be surprising revelation).
Then there are other actors of stature like Harris playing the sniveling
villain that are so underused and undeveloped that it’s borderline
ON A LEDGE made me think of TOWER HEIST
for how it tries to tap into the zeitgeist of our recent economic
fretfulness by showing downtrodden people seeking revenge over crooked
billionaires. Even though
both films’ wish-fulfillment revenge fantasies strained to be topical, I
nonetheless found TOWER HEIST to be spirited and enjoyable.
MAN ON A LEDGE’s pure entertainment value as a heist-thriller is
kind of diffused by its own inherent ridiculousness.
Once you start poking holes and asking questions about the veracity
Nick’s end game, those questions lead to more…and more…until
the sheer success of his limitlessly convoluted plan seems to be wholly
unattainable. It’s okay to
have a movie about a man on a ledge that appears to want to jump to his
death, just as long as storytelling logic does not take a nosedive.