– Summary –
Director : Asger Leth
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Sam Worthington, Ed Harris, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Anthony Mackie, Genesis Rodriguez, Kyra Sedgwick, Edward Burns, Titus Welliver, William Sadler.
Approx Running Time : 102 Minutes
Synopsis: When a man steps out onto the ledge of a Manhattan high-rise, he brings more than suicidal tendencies with him; he brings a quest for redemption, a quest that involves his brother, the city of New York, and the hunt for a stolen diamond.
What we think : Regardless of what “critics” may say, Man On A Ledge is actually relatively entertaining. As somebody who can appreciate badly written characters and a preposterous central conceit, I had no trouble enjoying this film for what it was – a B-movie with A-movie ideals. Sure, it’s entirely absurd, this film, but it is a lot of fun for the generic, cliche-ridden idea it aspires to.
You know what I really hate? Films that aren’t as bad as the vast majority of critics make out. Man On A Ledge is one of those films: it took a critical savaging on release, and I was initially concerned that Sam Worthington – a man inexplicably still being given leading roles in Hollywood projects, more on this later – was rapidly losing his “charm” with audiences. Sitting down to watch the film, I was fully prepared for a complete monstrosity, a debacle of wasted talent and hackneyed filmmaking. In fact, Man On A Ledge did not, I repeat, did not disappoint me at all. Accepting the convoluted conceit of the film, where a man spends most of the movie stuck on the ledge of a Manhattan high-rise hotel, the film manages to spark enough tension and mystery within its thin plot to merit at least some tacit interest. So is Man On A Ledge as bad as critics might have you believe? Is it the dire flick I’d been led to believe it was?
No. It isn’t that bad. It’s not awesome, but it’s nowhere near the dreck I’d expected. Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) steps out onto the ledge of a Manhattan high-rise after escaping from prison – he absconds following the death of his father while he is locked away for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. However, instead of being suicidal, Nick has a grand plan: to expose the truth of his framing for grand theft by wealthy property devel0per David Englander (Ed Harris in fine scene-chewing form) with the assistance of his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey’s girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez). The police arrive, naturally, to Nick’s “suicide bid” and attempt to talk him down; officer Dogherty (Edward Burns) initiates the scene, followed by on-leave negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), who begins to doubt the veracity of Nick’s case as she begins to suspect there are those on the force who cannot be trusted. According to Nick’s trial, he stole a massive diamond from Englander and had it cut up and distributed to make himself wealthy. Nick’s former partner, Mike (Anthony Mackie) begins to uncover the trail of clue left by Nick, learning that Nick’s grand plan involves stealing the “missing” diamond from its hiding place in a top-notch secure vault.
It behooves me to ask, but why exactly does Sam Worthington keep getting major film roles in Hollywood? I wouldn’t categorize him as the most versatile or nuanced actor getting about, which makes this conundrum even more puzzling: check out Worthington’s performances in Avatar and the two Titans movies, and you’ll note that he essentially plays the same style of role – gritty, grim, angry and lacking any light. I hate to be digging at a fellow Aussie, but I never rated him even when he was making a go of local films like Dirty Deeds, Gettin’ Square and Thunderstruck. I think of him as a less subtle version of Russell Crowe. While I think he’s struck it lucky with the films he’s been in, Man On A Ledge isn’t a film he’ll use to broaden his CV to producers, mainly because he’s performing the same emotion throughout the entire thing: an angry, bitter man filled with revenge. Now that’s not an indictment on the character he plays specifically, but moreso in Worthington’s shallow, at-times galling portrayal of it. Nick Cassidy’s a man who should be bitter and angry, but Worthington’s superficial performance – much like the awkward way he seemed in Avatar – hamstrings the genuine emotional core of the film to the detriment of all. The dude is not a Daniel Day-Lewis.
The plot conceit is preposterous, of course. Having your central character spend the majority of the film standing out on the ledge of a Manhattan skyscraper (in this film, the Roosevelt Hotel) listening to concerned police officers behind him baying crowds below him, and his brother relaying info through a hidden earpiece as the plan to exonerate Nick kicks into high gear, is indeed one that stretches credulity and plausibility. The script, which bristles with intent but lacks reason and a central underpinning of motivation, has a few gaping holes, but these are hidden by a brevity of seriousness and some “look at me” performances by the cast. The plan undertaken by Nick and his brother (along with newbie Genesis Rodriguez – dear Lord, if ever there was a name born for the big screen, that one is it!) is dependent on exceptional timing, plenty of luck and a whole heap of character wrangling. Nick’s extensive knowledge of the police force – he was a former officer in the New York force – is a big point the film makes, although exactly how he knows just what’s going to happen to the level he does in this film is a little much. It might not be much of a stretch to imagine the writer of this thing watching the Sam Jackson/Kevin Spacey flick, The Negotiator. Very similar use of plot devices to tell the story.
Worthington aside, most of the cast are used really well here. Elizabeth Banks tries very hard to bring a sense of realism to negotiator Lydia, although she’s given very little back-story other than she once failed to save a suicidal police officer from jumping from a bridge and is now in a period of enforced leave of absence. She’s a stock character in many ways, although Banks is good enough to make her at least interesting even with what little development she’s given. Edward Burns, meanwhile, might as well have phoned his performance in, for all his character brings to proceedings. Exactly why is character is the way he is, and why he needs to be in the film at all are mystefyingly never explained. Burn himself looks utterly disinterested in the part, and one can almost sense the number of eye-rolls he had mentally while filming it. Jamie Bell, as Nick’s brother Joey, is earnest and somewhat awkward as the films “comedy relief” of sorts – he’s funny, he’s smart yet bumbling, and his taunting of Nick throughout is as close to pressure release as this film gets. Joey’s girlfriend, played by the sexy and I-want-to-see-her-again Genesis Rodriguez, seems out of Joey’s league (hell, she’s out of most guys league, actually) but remains a pivotal part of the film’s dynamic. Anthony Mackie has little to do as Nick’s ex partner, while The Good Wife bad guy Titus Welliver delivers yet another Bad Guy performance here, although unlike his television show role, he’s just a caricature here. The Closer star Kyra Sedgwick slums it as a salacious television reporter – the kind that no broadcast company would ever allow on air, I’d think – while William Sadler makes a small role as the hotel’s concierge quite charming; yet the pivotal role of the movie belongs to Ed Harris, as the blustery, nasty property developer with strange parallels to Donald Trump. Harris has little to do but snap and bark at underlings, throw furniture as a demonstration of his authority, and snarl his dialogue like he’s about to be exorcised. The role’s hammy, sure, but in many ways still fun. He’s the Bad Guy you want to see get his comeuppance.
Director Asger Leth, a Danish director with only a few projects under his belt, manages to eke out some tension from the film by actually filming this thing for real – the production actually put Worthington on a ledge high above 45th Street in New York – and although there’s a distinct lack of impetus at the opening, by the midpoint of this film you’re actually involved in the story, it grabs you and doesn’t let go. Motivational issues aside – exactly why Worthington was framed for the incident he was incarcerated for is actually never explained – the film rattles along quite nicely, deftly skipping between the ledge, the heist, and the police operation to join the dots throughout. Leth’s eye for framing is decent enough, but his sense of action and timing for modern audiences just seems a little… off. The film’s editing is sharp, but the camera angles and some of the obscure shot selection does leave one scratching the scalp in dismay at how lethargic it all seems – Cassidy’s escape from the prison officers accompanying him to his father’s funeral is case in point: it lacks polish, which leaves one wondering from the outset if the film’s major setpieces will also suffer from a distinct sense of inadequacy. Thankfully, the rest of the film is reasonably well constructed as a thriller, although it never scales the heights of other, better entries into this genre.
While I was prepared to think very little of this film, I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. Probably because I’m a cineaste bourgeoisie, many would say. Sure, the film has plot holes, and sure, most of the characters are generic, cliche-ridden rote-efforts by a screenwriter trying to wring every drop of story from the central titular premise, but the overall effort isn’t anything to get all shirty about. You’d class it as Big Dumb Fun if it had giant robots brawling or Bruce Willis standing around stuff exploding, but since it has none of that you’d have to describe it as Small Time Fun and go from there. Man On A Ledge is nowhere near as bad as I expected it to be, although a case might be made for the overall silliness of the premise; if you can get past that, you’ll have a great time.