Mark Reviews Movies

Man on a Ledge


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Asger Leth

Cast: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie, Edward Burns, Titus Welliver, Kyra Sedgwick

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and brief strong language)

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 1/27/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 27, 2012

Man on a Ledge offers a multitude of examples of a screenwriter writing himself into a corner and left without any idea of how to get his characters out of it. This is a prime example of what not to do in such sticky plotting situations.

The premise is, for the most part, sound. A man is standing on a ledge, threatening to jump unless, well, the cops let him stand on the ledge for a bit longer. Perhaps it's not so sound in retrospect, but a high-concept setup of this variety depends entirely on how true the movie remains to its minimalist spirit. Pablo F. Fenjves' screenplay—save for a flashback that establishes how and, at least for appearances' sake, why he's come to be in this situation—starts off with just the right level of simplicity.

Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), using a false name, checks into a New York City hotel room, orders a lobster dinner for breakfast, hastily scribbles down a one-sentence note, opens a window, and steps onto the ledge of the 21st floor. For a simple visceral thrill, there's little that can top the sight of someone standing on about 18 inches of a solid surface that leads to an over-200-foot drop—a fact Fenjves somehow seems to forget later on.

Director Asger Leth captures Nick from just about every conceivable angle—from the folks below looking up (and chanting for him to jump so that the street might open up before rush hour), from a crane shot that pans from the street and up to him, from the side, from the rooftop of the building across the way where the vital part of his plan is simultaneously unfolding, and, in single instance, from above his head. It's a long way down, in case one was curious.

A month prior, Nick was in Sing Sing prison for stealing a very rich man's most precious diamond during a gig on the side while moonlighting from his day job as a police officer. His last appeal has failed, and he's looking at a 25-year sentence. His former partner Mike Ackerman (Anthony Mackie) arrives for a visit with some bad news: Nick's father is dying. After his father's death, Nick is able to get a day out of prison to attend the funeral.

That brings us up to date, and after an unlikely but necessary escape from the cemetery by stealing a guard's gun and his brother Joey's (Jamie Bell) truck and improbably surviving an accident with a speeding train, Nick makes his way over to the hotel. People begin to notice the Man on the Ledge, and the police arrive. Nick demands to have a disgraced detective named Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), who failed to stop the suicide of a cop in the recent past, serve as his negotiator.

The maintaining of the mystery of Nick's motives against the backdrop of the really long drop turns out to be the movie's most effective section, merely due to the virtue of economy. Obviously, things need to expand, and when they do, so does the movie's capacity for the ridiculous.

The real dubious elements arrive with the revelation that Joey and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are attempting to break into the headquarters of David Englander (Ed Harris), the really rich man who accused Nick of stealing a diamond worth $40 million. Englander is the type of villain that waxes poetic about a planned skyscraper, throws a gift back at its giver (because, after all, Englander's trying to coerce him and not the other way around), and shouts non sequiturs like, "Get the mayor on the phone," that are meant to show his influence and have absolutely no impact on anything within the plot.

He's also, it turns out, not too bright. Joey and Angie's plan is to break into Englander's high-security vault to retrieve the diamond the tycoon accused Nick of stealing to prove that Nick didn't steal it (It makes more sense in the moment). Anyway, they get through all the security (not much, in fact—a heat sensor and a panel that only requires one to cut the red wire) only to discover the diamond is not there. At this point, they manage a way to get at it through the effective implementation of the old "stand back and wait for the villain with everything at stake to take the item that could put him in jail out of an impossible-to-crack safe and place said MacGuffin in his pocket" trick.

Though competently made and snappily paced, Man on a Ledge begins an unstoppable freefall further and further into the preposterous as the people on the street make an abrupt 180 once they know Nick's true identity, a subplot about corrupt cops unfolds, and Nick is joined and chased by a series of people on and across the ledge. Yes, Nick also improvises the fastest way off the ledge, and, again, we have to wonder if anyone in the editing room paid any attention to all those shots of the hero in relation to the ground.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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