Recently, as per my friend’s request, I skimmed through a snuff film he’d found online. “You know, the fact that I don’t bat an eye at this, but have to hold back tears during ASPCA infomercials is sick in and of itself.”
“Congratulations, you’ve been desensitized to human violence,” he shot back. It’s true, like the gladiators before us, we, as a society, enjoy blood-sport. And though coliseums have faded away, the media continues to perpetuate brutality. Whether it’s through the countless torture-porn and mindless action movies shoved into cinemas or the nonstop news reports about human-on-human violence, it’s been embedded into our culture. As an allegory for this, Asger Leth’s Man on a Ledge caters to our barbaric needs with mildly entertaining fisticuffs and gun-fights without coming off as hypocritical.
However, running on a 22% of Rotten Tomatoes and 40% on Metacritic, it took a leap-of-faith to see the movie. When I did, I went with low expectations. To me, the trailers were appealing enough and, if nothing else, I could drool over Elizabeth Banks, who plays Lydia Mercer, a disgraced suicide negotiator. While she’s no Meryl Streep, it’s surprising how nuanced her chemistry with leading man Sam Worthington is. Because both performers are gripping and instantly likable, they make up for the shallow narrative devices and corny dialogue.
Nick Cassidy (Worthington) is a convicted thief/ex-cop who’s escaped prison to prove his innocence. By standing outside his 21st floor suite at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel, he provides ample distraction for his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and Angie (Genesis Rodriquez), a former house burglar, to infiltrate Englander International, the home of the asinine businessman (Ed Harris) who framed him for stealing the Monarch Diamond, which fetches around $40 million on the market.
“Jump! Jump! Jump,” the crowd below Cassidy chants. Meanwhile Suzie Morales (Kyra Sedgwick), a newscaster desperate for a scoop, hopes he’ll drop in-time for her program’s morning edition. For the most part, Pablo F. Fenjves’ screenplay is built around the idea of people craving violence. Throughout Man on a Ledge, New Yorkers rant about the inconveniences that Nick’s antics have caused, oblivious to the sanctity of life (they even go as far as to bet on whether he’ll decide to take the plunge). But the other major theme is “man versus state.” Here, Fenjves becomes painfully didactic, employing a random spectator to narrate his beliefs. The latter topic feels carelessly added to reflect the current Occupy Wall-Street movement, which remains (somewhat) relevant.
Yet the screenplay and direction really drop the ball during Joey and Angie’s scenes, which pale in comparison to Nick’s ordeal. It’s mostly because cinematographer Paul Cameron (who’s worked on films like “Man on Fire,” “In the Land of Women,” and “Gone in Sixty Seconds”), does an excellent job reminding his audience how high Cassidy stands. Helicopters swooping in dangerously close and gun-toting officers scaling down the side of the building hyperbolize our vertigo, while the concrete-toned visuals of Manhattan’s skyline perfectly reflect the city’s distinct atmosphere. Unfortunately, shots inside of a generic office building don’t have the same impact.
But, in spite of the inconsistencies, and an ending as predictable as death and taxes, Man on a Ledge is great finger food for a time of the year when cinematic delicacies are scarce.