Man on a Ledge
Directed by Asger Leth
Screenplay by Pablo F. Fenjves
Ed Harris, Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Anthony Mackie, Jamie Bell, Génesis Rodríguez
How long is Man on a Ledge? 102 minutes.
What is Man on a Ledge rated? PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.
A ridiculous plot makes for a bland heist thriller.
The heist movie is one of the most beloved genres in cinema and its great legacy is tarnished by films like Man on a Ledge. If a filmmaker wants to make a good heist movie, he or she must bring something to the genre that audiences haven’t seen before. Heat was a slow burn supported by an excellent script and the now famous diner scene with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Reservoir Dogs was a heist movie without a heist, filled with Quentin Tarantino’s minutiae-fueled dialogue. Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 boasts not only an amazing cast, but one of the smartest twist endings in all of cinema.
Man on a Ledge, on the other hand, is the type of movie film snobs are talking about when they say “I don’t watch anything produced by Hollywood.” If they were to base their opinions on this film alone, they couldn’t be faulted for despising the mindless faux spectacles on which this type of movie thrives.
The film opens with a man climbing out a New York City hotel window apparently debating whether or not to jump. We soon find out that the man is Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), a disgraced cop and escaped convict. When the police are sent to the hotel room to talk Nick down, he replies that he will only talk to Detective Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks). Mercer, who is dealing with her own problems at present, reluctantly shows up and attempts to prevent Nick from jumping. The more she talks to him, though, the more she thinks he doesn’t really want to kill himself at all.
Gradually we learn that Nick was sent to prison two years ago for stealing one of the world’s largest diamonds from billionaire David Englander (Ed Harris). He claims he is innocent and to prove it, he broke out of prison and plans to steal the diamond for real to prove Englander set him up. While he is distracting the police and onlookers, Nick’s brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), is breaking into Englander’s super-secure building with such ease that the Ocean’s crew would be green with envy.
As Mercer tries to understand what is really going on, she is getting heat from fellow detective Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns) and her chief, Dante Marcus (Titus Welliver), to get Nick inside or the SWAT team will move in. Nick, meanwhile, stands helpless as Joey and his girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), try to penetrate Englander’s fortress.
Man on a Ledge is the feature film debut of director Asger Leth whose previous film was the documentary Ghosts of Cite Soleil. Leth has apparently seen too many big Hollywood action movies as he tries to throw everything he can at the audience in an attempt to distract from the absurd script. The movie was written by Pablo F. Fenjves whose experience up until now has been made-for-TV movies. And it shows. Fenjves’ script is so ridiculous and filled with holes that it’s a wonder this project was ever green lighted.
For example, Nick says at one point that he has been planning his heist for six months. Six months of planning for two amateurs to collect blueprints, gather supplies, learn the security system’s timing and practice Mission: Impossible-style acrobatics. Nick also chooses Mercer because she lost a jumper three months ago even though she did everything she could to talk him down. What if that hadn’t happened? He wouldn’t have known there was a cop he could trust when he began planning while still in prison.
The story is ludicrous from beginning to end, so let’s move on. One would think with such a strong cast that the acting would be at least mildly passable. Instead, we get a collection of caricatures, none of which is grounded in reality. Worthington is unnecessarily intense from the start. If you begin at 11, there’s nowhere else to go with your performance. The normally entertaining Aussie actor also lets his accent slip and slide all over the place, which might make for a fun drinking game: take a drink every time he pronounces “my” like “boy.” Worst of all is Banks who is the least believable police detective of all time. Banks is a talented comedic actor (just watch her on 30 Rock), but a hard-drinking, loose cannon cop she is not.
The normally terrific Harris is so over-the-top here that you might think he was intentionally torpedoing his own performance. If this was the direction Leth wanted to take with the character, why not just get Nicolas Cage? At least we expect this type of performance from Cage and that way we would get to see him do what he does best.
Filled with sequences and encounters we have seen hundreds of times before, Man on a Ledge is a third-rate action movie at best.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”