Man on a Ledge
Release Date: January 27, 2012
Director: Asger Leth
Writer: Pablo F. Fenjves
Stars: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks and Jamie Bell
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Man on a Ledge is by no means a good movie. It is, however, a fairly entertaining one.
Borrowing heavily from the 1998 Samuel L. Jackson movie The Negotiator, the film stars Sam Worthington as Nick Cassidy, a police officer facing a 25-year jail sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. However, instead of taking a room full of people hostage, Cassidy climbs out onto the ledge of the 21st floor of a hotel and threatens to jump off. Playing the Kevin Spacey role of the police negotiator who believes the wronged cop’s story and decides to help him is Elizabeth Banks as Lydia Mercer. Cassidy requests Mercer by name, knowing that she is haunted by a case one month earlier in which she failed to talk a police officer down from a bridge.
Cassidy was convicted of stealing a $40 million diamond from ruthless businessman David Englander (Ed Harris). Nick uses his ledge stunt as a distraction to draw attention to himself while his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his brother’s girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) break into Englander’s vault to find the diamond, which Cassidy believes never actually left the premises.
By adding the diamond heist element and by giving us a flashback to Nick’s prison escape, the film finds ways to keep the action moving while Nick is perched up on the ledge. Not that the scenes on the ledge are boring. Director Asger Leth chose to put Worthington and Banks on the actual 21st story ledge of a New York City hotel, which undoubtedly added an extra level of realism to the performance and gave Leth the ability to get some really captivating shots. Any of you with a fear of heights will definitely get that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach several times throughout the film.
The performances are mostly solid too, which helps sell the film. Worthington and Banks have a good chemistry and their scenes together work well. Harris unfortunately isn’t asked to do very much, but he makes the most of the scenes he’s in by chewing just the right amount of scenery. Titus Welliver, Anthony Mackie and Edward Burns are all really enjoyable in their supporting roles. The only two weak links are Bell and Rodriguez, who give underwhelming performances. (Leth does his best to distract you from this by having Rodriguez show off as much cleavage as humanly possible in all of their scenes together.)
The story is fairly formulaic and every “surprise” twist is easy to spot a mile away. Still, it all works well enough until the end. The climax of the film, however, is a complete mess. The story falls apart and no matter how much suspension of disbelief you are willing to apply, the films gives you an ending that is in no way believable. Even overlooking the completely unrealistic action movie hijinks that ensue in the end, the resolution itself makes little sense when you stop for even one second to think about it.
The film also has two flaws in its design that it struggles to overcome. First, since Cassidy is an escaped convict and has no hostages, the police don’t really have a compelling reason to let him stay out on the ledge threatening to jump off and creating a huge spectacle. The film is fairly successful in handling this problem in two ways. Number one, Cassidy checks into the hotel under a fake name and wipes down his room for prints, so it takes a while to positively ID him. And two, once the police know who he is, Nick has Mercer on his side keeping the tactical unit from swarming in and forcibly removing him from the ledge.
Unfortunately, the film never really finds a way to address the second problem, which is Nick’s overall plan. Cassidy has his brother break into Englander’s vault to find the diamond, proving Englander had possession of it all along. But why would anyone be convinced that Cassidy and his brother didn’t simply plant the diamond in Englander’s vault in order to clear Nick’s name? A jury didn’t believe his story once, so why would anyone believe him now? The film never really addresses this. The most frustrating thing is that there are actually several outs they could have used to overcome this problem, but writer Pablo F. Fenjves failed to utilize any of them.
Problematic writing aside, the film is paced well enough that it never really overstays its welcome. While the story ends up being quite ridiculous, it is never boring. If you are looking for a mindless January action film, you probably won’t be disappointed. Though with a few added tweaks to the story, this one could have been a lot better.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.