Movie Review: “Man on a Ledge”
Maybe I was overly optimistic, but Harold Lloyd’s classic “Safety Last!” was the first association I found myself thinking of as I waited for the unfortunately limp Man on a Ledge to begin. In the infamous sequence from the silent film, Lloyd scales a building (and hangs from a clock) which provides shock, humor, and drama. It manages to still “wow” audiences after over 80 years and is a textbook example of how to build tension on the screen. I have to assume that director Asger Leth has seen this film, but he doesn’t appear to have taken the best of notes.
The barest levels of this story are interesting enough. From the title alone, Man on a Ledge evokes the imagery of unsteadiness, anxiety and suspense. After seeing the poster, which could nearly cause vertigo, I was hopeful. It appeared to present the opportunity to tell simplistic story of a man who finds himself on a ledge without the option of escape. This trap could be self-inflicted or “bad guy” induced; the plot did not matter, but the result would have been a minimalistic, yet high action thriller. My dreams, however, did not come into fruition. Instead, Man on a Ledge it is a convoluted and awkwardly staged dance; a plethora of action films already seen.
The film begins simply enough. A well dressed man, played by Sam Worthington, walks into a well-to-do hotel, orders an elegant meal of lobster and champagne, writes a note, then climbs through a window and onto a ledge. Is he suicidal? Possibly, but not overtly. Is he looking for celebrity? Hard to say. He is, however, putting himself in a life threatening situation for an unknown reason. The intrigue of this opening scene could have been the start of an compelling mystery. However, all questions are quickly resolved through a series of flashbacks and all intrigue swiftly dissipates: it is revealed that this man is Nick Cassidy. He is a recently escaped convict who was a former police officer, now hanging out on the ledge of a very tall building attempting to prove his innocence. This is not all.
There is a heist and Nick is merely a diversion for another plot about to begin. His brother (Jamie Bell) and busty girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) are in the process of breaking into a highly secure building. What they are trying to steal is not revealed, but they use some of the most ridiculous techniques one could imagine. The thought of them ever completing their tasks is almost an insult to the audience’s intelligence. Then, there is Lydia Mercer, a troubled yet attractive officer (Elizabeth Banks) who is attempting to lure Nick off of the ledge, while inadvertently unraveling the mystery of a man who have been forced to such great heights (I felt one pun was deserved).
And there’s more…
We already have a wrongly accused criminal / cop, a troubled police woman, and a embarrassingly obvious heist, but let us not forget the sell-out news reporter (Kyra Sedgwick) selfishly looking for the best angle to entice her viewers and a mob of people that are there solely to see the high-drama of a man who may plummet to his death. Oh! Big Business is also represented (by an extremely thin and menacing Ed Harris) because there is no villain more obvious that that of a money-hungry corrupt corporation.
Using the logic that more always means better, any realistic character development is thrown away to make room for additional plot twists. There is a lot going on here, but none of these stories are fully realized. Any commentary that could have been made, for instance the lack of humanity that occurs when a mob is formed or the corruption of the media and/or big business, are crowded out by one another. Inevitably all of the plots end up feeling just like residual shadows of many greater (and lesser) films. A bunch of action scenes and a few moments of lukewarm romance culminates into, instead of a gourmet meal, a casserole that a rushed mother throws together the evening before grocery day.
Regardless of plot, this film could have still worked from a action perspective, unfortunately it never accomplishes the tension necessary to keep an audience on the edge of their seats. The story of a man on a ledge should be a terse thriller about a man’s brush with death. With a protagonist constantly inches away from falling through sky, the film should be nerve-wracking from start to finish. Excluding fleeting moments, Sam Worthington looks as comfortable on his ledge as a grandfather in an easy chair. At one point he even casually sits down to have a bite of food. If the ledge is wide enough to enjoy a meal, it’s not going to incite fear in the audience.
Instead of harnessing and feeding a single concept, every idea the filmmakers appear to have had was thrown into the mix. Last year two films attempted to tell tense stories of men in situations that appear to have no way out and their quest for survival. Buried and 127 Hours took simple stories and made something truthful, claustrophobic and edgy. Their lack of plot is exactly what makes them so accessible, so disturbing, and so much fun. I wanted Man on a Ledge to be something like this. Unfortunately, the movie opts for big ideas instead of thoughtful ones and clichés instead of originality. Maybe try renting one of the above-mentioned instead.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.
Man on a Ledge is rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. Directed by Asger Leth. Written by Pablo F. Fenjves. Starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Edward Burns, and Kyra Sedgwick.