It's a bit strange that for a movie called Man on a Ledge, I was least interested in the scenes actually involving a man being on a ledge. Surprisingly, it fell to the supporting cast to inject some fun and suspense into the proceedings with their individual storylines. Without them, I would have probably walked away from this film with a far less positive opinion.
Before we go any further, let's talk about who the man is and how he comes to find himself on a ledge. His name is Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) and he used to be a cop. Now he's serving a 25 year prison term after being accused of stealing a sizable diamond from prominent businessman David Englander (Ed Harris). Having run out of legal options to profess his innocence, Nick decides to take matters into his own hands. He takes advantage of an unfortunate family circumstance and stages a daring escape. Soon thereafter, he travels to New York City, checks into the Roosevelt hotel and has a nice meal. Moments later, he is standing on the ledge outside his window...a spot he will remain in for much of the film's remainder.
Nick's actions may seem suicidal but in fact, he only means to create a diversion. You see, elsewhere Nick's brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey's girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are working on a plan of their own, one featuring lots of flash-boom-bang which they don't want to call a lot of attention to. Thrown into this mix is Elizabeth Banks as a hardened negotiator, Anthony Mackie as Nick's concerned ex-partner and of course, the massive crowd gathering beneath Nick's window who can't decide whether they want him to live or take a swan dive. I won't say any more for fear of spoiling some of the film's surprises but suffice it to say, one way or another, Nick Cassidy will come off that ledge.
Not to state the obvious here, but suspense stems from the unknown. When we see a character doing something unusual or irrational we are intrigued simply because we have to know the reason behind it. Conversely, when we know exactly why an action is being taken, it usually loses that element of surprise. From that point on, you are trading suspense for spectacle. This is exactly what happens with Man on a Ledge. The setup is laced with danger and delicious anticipation. Watching Nick calmly consuming what could be his final meal in a lonely hotel room is riveting because the truth still remains in shadows. Then he steps out onto that ledge, lets us in on the nitty-gritty of what Joey and Angie are trying to accomplish and lets some of the wind out of the movie's sails.
The good news is that director Asger Leth and writer Pablo Fenjves are not relying on Worthington's precarious perch to sell the entire movie. Once the grand scheme is out in the open, they happily split our focus so we can spend some time with Bell and Rodriguez as they go about their heisty shenanigans. This is critical because it helps give the film some much needed momentum. Banks and Worthington are perfectly fine in their roles (Banks especially, as she projects intelligence through her frustration) but a certain inertia sets in as she tries every trick in the negotiator handbook to get him back to safety. Bell and Rodriguez jar us loose as they are faced with new obstacles at every turn. Although a good chunk of their mission is hard to swallow, both actors have a snappy presence and crackling chemistry that helps smooth over some of the silliness.
Ultimately, the film is entertaining in its own limited way. It gives us a pair of genre tales (claustrophobic thriller and breezy heist flick) and hopes that at least one of them will appeal to the viewer. This sort of safe filmmaking is easily digested and forgotten. I was hoping for something more...a real leap of faith.
We follow this up with a Trailer (2:27) for the film featuring commentary by Elizabeth Banks. I get the sense that Banks was given free reign with this bit. It is wryly funny as she goes about her business of drooling over the guys (she'd "like to tap Ed Harris") and asking pertinent questions ("is that girl ever going to put her clothes back on?"). I would love to see Banks deflate more trailers in the future with her sarcastic voiceovers.