Director: Asger Leth
Stars: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell
Plot: An escaped convict threatens to jump from the ledge outside his hotel room, but there’s more to the situation than meets the eye.
As far as blindingly obvious film titles go, Man on a Ledge has to be up there with the best (or worst) of them. Even the most highly paid screenwriters do on occasion rack their brains until the cows come home, but just can’t quite find a snappy title that somehow encapsulates a film yet keeps you guessing. Production meetings that ended with the line “It’s been a long day, let’s just call it…” have included Titanic (1997), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Three Men and a Baby (1987) and of course, the legendary Snakes on a Plane (2006). Where all of these films have lived up to expectation according to the title, Asger Leth’s film about a-bloke-standing-atop-a-building’s-concrete-shelf has a plot that is not quite as blatant as say, Alien vs. Predator (2004).
New York ex-cop-now-convict Nick Cassidy (Worthington) claims he has been framed by wealthy businessman David Englander (Ed Harris) for stealing a $40 million diamond from his vault, whilst on guard duty. He loses his final appeal and is sentenced to 25 years in jail. Nick’s father then dies so he is allowed to attend the funeral – he subsequently uses this opportunity to break free of his guards, escaping in a car which is hit by a train. He makes it out despite a large number of police on his tail. Nick checks into the Roosevelt Hotel a week later under the name of Walker. He climbs onto the ledge outside his window, gaining the attention of a passer-by who then alerts the police.
As the block is cordoned off, Nick asks the first cop on the scene, Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns) if he could talk to negotiator Lydia Mercer (Banks), who is currently on leave after failing to talk down a depressed policeman on Brooklyn Bridge. As Lydia arrives, the two begin talking, but it is only after Mercer takes a fingerprint from a cigarette, that she learns about Nick’s back story. Meanwhile, Nick’s former partner Mike Ackerman (Anthony Mackie) believes there is more going on than just a threat of suicide - he investigates what Nick has been planning and thinks that he is going to set off a bomb somewhere. Unbeknownst to the police, the press and the baying crowd below on the street, Nick’s brother Joey (Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are breaking into Englander’s vault to prove Nick’s innocence.
With A Man on a Ledge, you effectively get two films for the price of one – but ends up being less than half the sum of its parts. On the one hand, we have our main protagonist Nick teetering on the edge of a ledge, stalling for time whilst fooling the conveniently attractive Lydia into thinking he’s going to jump. Then we have Joey and Angie having fun with explosives and ventilation shafts across the street, ensuring that the book of heist movie clichés has been suitably well-thumbed. The result is a film that stretches its two main plot strands far too thinly, while also forming a huge question mark over its plausibility. Are we supposed to believe that the two intrepid jewel thieves are professionals after a year of planning and no previous experience? The Ocean’s Eleven-style heist, ‘the one where the bad guy deserves to be stolen from’, has been done so many times now, it’s beyond a joke.
The only award ceremony that the cast will be bothering this year is The Razzies. Most of the acting honours go to Ed Harris, who is little more than a suited version of his Brigadier Francis X. Hummel in The Rock (1996), as he sneers and hisses his way through the rather poorly scripted character of Englander. Worst supporting actor here is James Nesbitt’s American twin Titus Welliver, who is equally as hammy and exaggerated, playing bent cop Dante Marcus. The only person coming out of this with any credit is director Asger Leth, who makes the view from the ledge in question precariously dizzying. Despite the creative camera work, the impact of Nick’s apparently inevitable suicide is tempered by the fact that we know what is happening across the road and so the potential for a big twist or a flashy finale is out of the question. It is therefore a shame that screenwriter Pablo F. Fenjves couldn’t have kept a few aces up his sleeve to surprise us and redeem himself at least a little. As it is, we are left with a pack of jokers and not a single diamond in the script, ironically.
Man on a Ledge is best enjoyed by disengaging the brain and not taking the silly plot packed with contrivances too seriously. With an interesting premise, this could have been so much more but instead we’re left with an unimaginative title – and a script to match.