REVIEW: Super-Preposterous Man on a Ledge At Least Has Crazy Confidence on Its Side
It’s so hard to find a reasonably enjoyable thriller these days that anything with a marginally intriguing premise and fewer than 10 plot holes has come to seem like a minor miracle. Man on a Ledge might have been that kind of modest miracle: Sam Worthington stars as Nick Cassidy, a pissed-off ex-cop who’s been convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Somehow – and the whole of Man on a Ledge deals with the whys and wherefores of that somehow – he springs himself from Sing Sing, suits up in some phenomenally nice-looking threads, and checks himself (under an assumed name) into a room on one of the upper floors of a midtown Manhattan luxury hotel. After a room-service breakfast of champagne, lobster and French fries, he creeps out onto the ledge and greets the cops who respond to the call with some very specific demands.
Chief among those requirements is that he’ll speak with only one NYPD psychologist, Lydia Spencer (Elizabeth Banks). Spencer has been having a rough time on the force of late: When we first see her, she’s barely able to rouse herself from her bed – she’s having some sort of killer morning after, and her messy tumble of blond hair makes her look like a discarded Barbie doll. Cassidy, of course, has specific reasons for wanting to speak with Spencer. And even if he makes her day tougher than it was at the beginning, it’s clear from the way her superiors order her around – they include a sarcastic nutbuster played by Edward Burns and Titus Welliver as an overly caricatured, gum-chewing NYPD bossy-pants – that they don’t take her as seriously as Cassidy does.
Somewhere in there, Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez sneak around as part of a carefully orchestrated plan to… well, to tell you too much would give the game away, but it involves a giant honker of a diamond that Cassidy supposedly stole from a loathsome Donald Trump type (played with great relish by Ed Harris, who usually gets to portray only principled guys). Meanwhile, Cassidy’s close friend and former partner (played by Anthony Mackie), frets about Cassidy’s fate.
Because Cassidy is, after all, clinging somewhat daintily to a narrow strip of stone some 20 stories off the ground: This is a guy who doesn’t care if he lives or dies as long as he ultimately proves his innocence. And as you watch Man on a Ledge, you’ll have good cause to wonder why he’s going to such extremes. Director Asger Leth (son of Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth and also the director of the 2006 documentary Ghosts of Cité Soleil, about gang warfare in the slums of Haiti) pulls off a minor feat by making us think it’s worth our while to care. I kept watching Man on a Ledge – and scrutinizing Sam Worthington’s half-impassive, half-handsome face – and wondering, How is this all going to tie together? Or is it going to tie together at all?
At the very least, Leth allows us to bask in the illusion that the movie’s farfetched conclusion actually might make sense – until you start taking it apart, piece by piece, and realize that it’s all utter ishkabibble. Characters are savvy enough to procure fake IDs for themselves, the better to pull off all sorts of nefarious activities – yet they put important documents in storage spaces rented under their real names. A random homeless man-slash-crazy person – but of course! - commits a heroic deed that changes Cassidy’s fate. The script, by Pablo F. Fenjves, is audacious about asking us to believe in every wiggly-waggly twist and turn. It’s so audacious that, by the end, you can’t believe you bought any of it. Punk’d!
But either in spite of or because of its whimsically convincing quality, Man on a Ledge is reasonably fun to watch along the way. Leth and Fenjves do take a few spiritual missteps: At one point Spencer tells Cassidy that the assembled crowd on the ground wants nothing more than to see his brains go splat on the pavement. And sure enough, we see the masses taking great glee in watching Cassidy quiver on his perch – they exhort him to jump as if they were cheering for an athlete. That’s a genuinely sour note, and a false one: While it’s true there could always one or two nutters lurking about, 99.9 per cent of New Yorkers would not want to see a man leap to his death, and probably 99 per cent would do whatever they could to dissuade him. (We may be crazy to live in a place where the monthly rent for a small studio equals the GNP of Liechtenstein, but we’re not animals.)
Still, Leth appears to have had a good time with some of the movie’s details: Kyra Sedgwick appears, in a sharp mini-role, as an on-the-scene TV reporter who offers the play-by-play on this potential suicide with so much crisp efficiency, it’s if she’d been rehearsing it for days. (Now that’s New York.) Worthington is perhaps more likable, and more watchable, than he’s ever been. Even if his Australian accent rubs through here and there, it’s still easy enough to buy him as a man with both a conscience and a rugged sense of justice.
And Banks is, as always, a pleasure to watch, although the movie doesn’t make any use of her fabulous screwball streak. Instead, she gets to play a reasonable character stuck in an unreasonable situation. Even so, there’s always a gleam in her eye that suggests she can’t believe she’s gotten herself into such a mess. And it’s the gleam in her eye that gets her out, allowing her a great moment of triumph over her sexist, asshole bosses. Man on a Ledge is on shaky footing when it comes to plausibility. But it believes so strongly in its own preposterousness that it almost – almost – gets us to make the leap.