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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