Review by Paul Stathakis | February 4, 2012

Not enough to drive audiences to the edge

Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) spent two years in prison for a crime he claims he never committed. He executes a plan which allows to successfully escape from prison and a month later we find him standing on a ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. This is his attempt to set the record straight and to prove that he’s innocent.  Cassidy has only one demand. No, he doesn’t want money or a chopper. Cassidy’s only request is to speak with negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks).  The cops have thirty minutes to bring her in or else, as Cassidy says to an agent, he’ll jump. But if you know the formula well enough, then you can expect that the protagonist won’t jump just yet. At least not within the first ten minutes of the film. But that’s the kind of thrills that “Man on a Ledge” trots along with.

Mercer arrives on the scene in time to chat with Cassidy from the hotel room window. She wants to know, as we  the audience do too, what exactly Cassidy aims to gain by standing on a ledge. He tells her, “Today’s the day, that everything changes one way or another.” As the story advances, we learn that there is a sub-plot. Cassidy’s idea to stand on a ledge and attract such a great deal of attention is all part of a larger scheme. This becomes clear to Mercer when she sees Cassidy communicating with someone through a cleverly concealed earpiece. Who Cassidy is communicating with and why are two things I will not reveal because the trailer keeps that plot hushhush. But if you happen to enjoy rational/realistic thrillers, you’ll most likely find yourself debating the issue of plausibility once the film’s over.

When it comes to direction, “Man on a Ledge” is visually arresting. Whenever we have a bird’s eye glimpse of the ledge, we get that feeling of vertigo. Cassidy is, after all, on the 21st floor. So naturally, we don’t have a hard time understanding how one wrong step could lead to his demise. Of course, if that’s not enough,  you have a crowd of onlookers chanting and pleading for Cassidy to “get over with it already and jump.” One onlooker even flashes a sign that reads, “Jump into my arms.” The film has good timing in terms of pacing in due part beause of the editing. We spend just the right amount of time on the ledge, inside the hotel, inside an office, inside a vault, in an elevator shaft, on the rooftop, and on the street.

Though the kinetic editing is suitable and the performances, convincing and good, all of this poses a problem as the film seems to favour style over substance. Here we have characters who, despite their deepest sincerities, we just don’t care about as much as we should. We don’t know enough about them to cheer them on. We know about their motives but their plan seems a little hazy. Suffice it to say that the characters are underdeveloped. Some of the dialogue is also problematic and  unfitting. At one point one character says, “You need to take it down a notch.” Coming from a six-grader, we would easily accept that kind of talk. But coming from someone who’s supposed to be working against time and under great pressure, it’s just plain silly. I suspect that moments such as these were included to elicit a few laughs from audience members but it’s hard to even lightly chuckle when lines are delivered this forcibly.

Perhaps I’m being tough on this film. There are those who will argue that this is merely a “popcorn movie”, a film whose sole reason for existing is to mindlessly entertain – nothing more, nothing less. Escapist films certainly have their place in cinema. “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is an example of such a film, one that we willingly go along with it because we know that Tom Cruise and his team are experienced professionals who live dangerously for a living. When Danny Ocean prepared for a big heist with his team in “Ocean’s Eleven”,  their planning seemed convincing enough that we willingly went along with it. It was fun to be in on the plan with them.  The characters in “Man on a Ledge” don’t seem to have that kind of experience or backbone and because they don’t share all the witty details of their plan with us, we don’t end up really buying into it. In fact, we only learn about their plan as its carried out. Naturally, the film needs a villainous character and Ed Harris occupies that role. Harris is a veteran actor whose intensity on screen always reminds us of his range as a dramatic actor. This is the same man who in 2000 not only brilliantly portrayed American painter Jackson Pollock but directed the picture as well. Here, all he is an angry businessman, cocky, greedy, and mean. But even that feels forced.

Popcorn or not, audiences deserve at least some plausibility somewhere in between the start and the finish. Even the most die-hard fans of the action genre might wonder how a man is able to fall from a tall building, land on a huge inflatable mattress, then get up as though nothing ever happened and, wait for it, run perfectly normal to catch up to a bad guy. Yeah, sure.  How about that car chase in “Man on a Ledge”?  It ends with a collision between a Jeep and a fast-moving  train. The Jeep is virtually demolished but somehow the driver is able to walk away from the crash unscathed. Consider one more moment at the start of the film where Elizabeth Banks’ character arrives at the Roosevelt. We know that she is not a rookie when it comes to situations like these. There is a back-story to her character. We learn about a tragic incident which occurred at a bridge a year prior where she was not able to convince a “jumper” to not jump. The incident still haunts her. She explains to a cop that she can’t help but replay the images of the tragedy in her mind and that she still has troubles sleeping at night because of it. Yet she can permit Cassidy to dramatically countdown to two before sticking her head out of the window to announce her presence. Small detail, perhaps, but not cop-like one bit.


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