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Man on a Ledge

January 29, 2012
Man on a Ledge

The prospect of a man leaping to his death from twenty stories up is thrilling, I must admit. Will he or won’t he, and which one is the gathered crowd really hoping for? But it’s sort of hard to turn it into a story on its own, so Man on a Ledge uses it to inject some thrills into an otherwise-tepid cross between a heist and a vindication-of-innocence movie.

Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) is the titular man, while New York City’s Roosevelt Hotel provides the titular ledge outside its twenty-first story windows. Nick made a daring escape a month ago from Sing Sing, where he’d spent the previous few years. A former cop, he was accused of stealing the forty-million-dollar Monarch diamond from real estate mogul David Englander (Ed Harris), though of course he’s maintained his innocence all along.

When the first negotiator (Edward Burns) shows up Nick rejects him and insists on speaking with Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), despite the fact that the last jumper she talked to ended up taking a header off the Brooklyn Bridge. Nick, you see, has a plan; while everyone is watching him, his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and Joey’s girlfriend, Angie (Génesis Rodriguez), are breaking into the Englander offices to prove that the Monarch diamond was never stolen in the first place.

Meanwhile the head of the hostage team (Titus Welliver) is looking to send in the SWAT team; Nick’s former partner, Mike (Anthony Mackie), is still looking for him after the escape; and spectacle journalist Suzie Morales (Kyra Sedgwick) is trying to catch the biggest splatter she can.

The effort to prove Nick’s innocence mostly comes out as a regular sequence of info-dump updates, none of which are particularly surprising. The only investigation as such is the heist. But the heist isn’t really all that well put-together, either. For one thing, Joey and Angie spend half their time bickering. Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello had the chemistry to banter; Bell and Rodriguez, not so much. For another, the whole project succeeds — to the extent that it does — mostly out of sheer luck than out of a well-rehearsed plan. In any other heist film these two would have been captured a dozen times over. Seriously, the sentence “they’re all red wires” actually makes an appearance.

Worthington and Banks do a better job on their ledge, and director Asger Leth does some good work shooting them outside the actual Roosevelt Hotel. But when your two leads serve mostly to mechanically advance the needed plot points, you’re wasting what talent you have available. Even Ed Harris can only do so much with a cardboard cutout of a villain like David Englander.

Man on a Ledge replaces narrative tension with the idea of tension. Watching a man on a ledge is exciting at first, but as time drags on you get the idea that he’s not actually going to jump. Then you start getting annoyed that he’s causing a big scene for nothing and interrupting everyone else’s life. Then you start wishing he actually would jump, if just to be rid of him. That isn’t tension; it’s tedium.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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