Review: Decent Enough Thrills Can Be Found with 'Man on a Ledge'
by Jeremy Kirk
January 27, 2012
Man on a Ledge, the new film directed by Asger Leth, never hits the depths of dullness its name implies. It doesn't exactly rev the engines from frame one, either. Hand-holding at times, drab for a majority of its running time, and not the most memorable of heist thrillers, it sits on that ledge for a large portion, daring to take the leap. Luckily, it finally does and ends up being above average for this brand of casual, movie-going experience. They could have chosen a much more interesting title, though. Continued below!
The man on that ledge is Nick Cassidy, played by Sam Worthington, an escaped prisoner who checks into a hotel in downtown New York City one day and climbs out onto the ledge. He threatens to jump, and, as the police, along with Officer Mercer, a psychologist played by Elizabeth Banks who attempts to talk the man down, become increasingly distracted, his brother and brother's girlfriend commence a nearby heist. Their target, the diamond Cassidy was convicted of stealing that will serve as both evidence for his innocence and against that of the villainous businessman, played by Ed Harris, who set him up.
Leth's direction gives Man on a Ledge its first concern early in the film. After Cassidy checks into the hotel, eats a nice meal, wipes the room clean of fingerprints, and slowly makes his way out the window, the film hits a snag, a big one. Instead of carrying that intensity through to the next scene, it flashes back to show us the events around Cassidy's escape from prison. This flashback offers its own thrills and suspense - and actually gives the film a car chase, which it wouldn't have had otherwise - but the intensity level built in watching a man climb out a window and look at the street far below him, which is a well-crafted shot in of itself, is gone. The same information Leth shows us by flashing back could have just as easily been delivered to us through dialogue, a debriefing of sorts for Banks' psychologist, who surely got such information once she hit the scene.
Man on a Ledge hits similar snags throughout, as it cuts back and forth between Cassidy threatening to jump, the police in the hotel room trying to figure out who he is and what he wants, the businessman - who is given no establishment at all the first two or three times we see him - and the brother and girlfriend attempting to steal the diamond. This latter aspect to the story seems like a different movie from the suspenseful man standing on a narrow ledge. Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez play the pair who have to be the worst diamond thieves on the planet. It makes sense. They aren't supposed to be experts, but believing how quickly they think on their toes - when they aren't bickering like an old married couple - and how easily they seem to get themselves out of tight spots is a fool's errand.
The actual man on the ledge aspect to the film is interesting enough. Worthington is a charismatic enough actor when his Australian accent isn't bleeding all over the film's soundtrack and his hair is fighting for screen time. Banks is spot-on as Mercer, the only police officer Cassidy can trust. Her back-story helps, that of a past suicide attempt that ended in both a saved life and a level of celebrity for the her. The two play off each other well in the conversation moments on the ledge, a laid back game of mouse and mouse where they're trying to determine who the cat and his friends are.
These moments work so well because of the film's actors, but Leth has to get some of the credit, too. His camera moves around the ledge, out away from the building, and even up over Cassidy as he stands looking down at the building crowd below. It's all there to build tension and not bring attention to itself, and that's why it works so well. Leth has a great use of his camera, giving us shots that would be physically impossible for the human eye to see without the benefit of camera equipment. Man on a Ledge hits a snag or two in structuring, but as far as shot composition goes, this man is a fresh director to watch.
This is especially the case once things begin to heat up. As the diamond heist nears its end and Mercer begins to believe in Cassidy's innocence, the real intensity of the film begins. The last act, which keeps us on the ledge at times as well as travels around the hotel during a nicely crafted foot chase, will leave any fan of exciting action and daring stunts satisfied. It's nowhere near the bulk of the movie, but there's enough weighty action to leave an impression, to really kick-start the adrenaline before the incredibly heightened, and equally ridiculous, final stunt makes itself known.
Casual and less than exciting as it is as times, Man on a Ledge ends up delivering enough, solid exhilaration to make up for jerky pacing, squabbling side plot characters, and general down-time it goes through for much of its running time. The diamond heist is built to be suspenseful, but, at this point, there isn't anything fresh being offered in stories about heists. Not that there couldn't be. There just isn't here in this film. But the film keeps enough of your interest for enough of its length to make the final moments really matter. Man on a Ledge finally jumps, sticks its landing, and sends everyone home reasonably satisfied. For this kind of mainstream thriller, that's about as much as you can ask for.
Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10