A film review by Craig J. Koban February 8, 2012

MAN ON A LEDGE jj
½ 

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

Directed by Asger Leth / Screenplay by Pablo Fenjves

The 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 outlandishness. 

It’s 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.   

It 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.. 

Unbeknownst 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.  

 

 

If 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 tactful nuance. 

The 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. 

Regrettably, 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? 

The 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 criminal. 

MAN 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.    

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