2 July 2012

Movie Review: Man on a Ledge


Man on a Ledge
2012, 102mins, 12
Director: Asger Leth
Writer: Pablo F. Fenjves
Cast includes: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Edward Burns, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie 
UK Release Date: 2nd February 2012 (now available on DVD & Blu-Ray)

When released earlier this year “Man on a Ledge” incurred a fairly savage critical response, the picture reportedly suffering from a weak lead performance, poorly formed characterization and one ludicrous plot contortion too many. In truth the picture is actually an intriguingly atmospheric and engaging thriller – at least for its opening 70 minutes. Truthfully “Man on a Ledge” does descend into manic hokum, but the opening two acts are strangely compelling, and to this writer’s mind Worthington is subtle rather than wooden. Film journalism is a completely subjective pursuit, but from my vantage points the press have been much too harsh on this slickly assembled effort.

Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) is an escaped con out to restore his sullied name. Ascending to the top of a large Hotel, Nick draws law enforcers, media types and the general Manhattan public into unrest as he threatens to take a plunge. Police psychologist Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) is brought onto the scene to talk Nick down, but he isn’t budging, at least for now. In a building across the road Nick’s brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his spunky squeeze Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are attempting to clear the felon’s name, by stealing the diamond Nick himself was accused of thieving. The jewel belongs to Real Estate magnate David Englander (Ed Harris), his fortress of alarms, sensors and safes almost impenetrable. Whilst Nick draws the crowds and maintains his suicidal charade as a decoy, Angie and Joey attempt to retrieve their prize before time runs out.

“Man on a Ledge” marks Asger Leth’s American debut behind the camera, the director making a strong case for his continued presence in Hollywood. The film uses its specific setting acutely, Leth deploying the vertigo-inducing perspective of Worthington’s character to rack up suspense. The first three minutes of the film set the tone for the next 60, a quiet and brooding Worthington tucks into his last supper, before mounting the ledge with understated acceptance. The camera angles and shots selected throughout the flick are clever, Lethe editing together the various plot strands with an eye for pace and excitement. The demeanour of dread and confusion that dominates the initial portion of “Man on a Ledge” renders the thriller very watchable, and in a flashback sequence the film-maker showcases his action chops with a coherent and fluid cemetery care chase. Whatever detractors “Man on a Ledge” might have, Leth does not rank amongst them.

The screenplay is more problematic. The first hour is rewarding because it lets the actors (who generally acquit themselves well, particularly a calm Worthington) and Leth’s style do the heavy-lifting; “Man on a Ledge” achieving a gripping and suspenseful aura as a result.  At least when we’re on the building that is. The subplot involving Bell and Rodriguez attempting to rob the building operates less successfully, namely because the script occasionally misjudges the tone in this segment. The two performers are game, but there’s an unwanted plethora of corny comic relief here and their dynamic as a bickering couple never quite takes flight. Some basic tension derives due to Leth’s superior direction and the fact we gradually come to care about Worthington’s Nick, but in general the heist component of “Man on a Ledge” isn’t the movie’s brightest facet.

The finale features some technically confident action and a dizzying amount of kinetic energy, but it’s not as engaging as what precedes it. The narrative takes a selection of absurd turn and Harris seems determined to play every scene as a pantomime villain, notions that undercut the restrained urgency of the first 70 minutes. It’s not a complete dampener because the set-pieces are individually well staged, but it might have been nice if “Man on a Ledge” had sustained the more desolate hue, instead of opting for a bonkers mainstream pay-off.

“Man on a Ledge” won’t win any awards or even last particularly long in the memory. The movie it draws obvious comparison with is 2002’s “Phone Booth”, the contrast doing little for Leth’s project on the long run. However “Man on a Ledge” and Worthington are both deserving of a kinder reception than they received, principally because on the whole solidity is the name of the game here. It’s a standard pot-boiler, but it panders to its genre’s strengths accordingly and offers a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. It’s flawed for sure and serviceable rather than inspired, but there’s still plenty to admire about this tightly packaged affair. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012


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