Man on a Ledge is not, unfortunately, merely an unimaginatively titled sequel to 2008 mega-hit documentary Man on Wire. Instead, it plays more like a cross between the high-concept, limited location shenanigans of Phone Booth, and the hi-tech revenge-driven heist stylings of Inside Man. Sadly, it’s neither as streamlined as the former or as clever as the latter.
Although it certainly seems to think it’s clever. And, to be fair, the premise is neat enough. Sam Worthington plays escaped convict Nick Cassidy, who makes his way out onto a 21st floor Manhattan ledge, where he threatens to commit suicide if his innocence is not realised. But what the negotiator (Elizabeth Banks), sent to talk him down, doesn’t realise, is that he’s also providing a distraction while his brother (Jamie Bell) and his brother’s girlfriend (Génesis Rodriguez) break into a high security vault owned by villainous real estate developer, Dave Englander (Ed Harris). There have certainly been worse foundations for action thrillers.
But things soon become extraordinarily laboured. For one thing, it quickly becomes obvious that Cassidy is not going to jump, thereby depriving the ledge scenes of any tension – although, even if any remnant did exist, it would have been sucked away by the lengthy, dull banter between Worthington and Banks. The rest of the plot meanwhile becomes increasingly ludicrous as twist after twist is piled on, until by the end the film is crushed under the weight of its own logic-defying conceits. All the characters are blindingly obvious; simply put, from the moment they come on screen no character does anything that will surprise anyone – he’s the bad guy, he’s going to betray him, he’s got a heart of gold under that gruff exterior. When the twists do come, we see them coming from a long way off, even if they make no real sense.
Man on a Ledge also suffers from some pretty poor acting. Sam Worthington demonstrates once again that he’s ill at ease when not punching someone’s head in, and he occasionally slips back into his Australian accent. Banks is simply miscast – try as she might, she comes across as too nice, too cheerful, to convincingly depict the hard-boiled, traumatised, pill-popping cop she is. Even actors with great track records in lifting otherwise dull movies with excellent performances struggle with weak roles. Bell regularly finds himself the best thing about bad films (see Jumper), but here his comedy relief double act with Rodriguez (who is given nothing more to do except act sassy, look sultry and occasionally strip) is merely irritating. And even the legendary Harris can’t do much with a script that sketches him as a barely one-dimensional bad guy, snarling lines like ‘there are two kinds of people in this world – people who will do anything to get what they want, and everyone else.’
Man on a Ledge has its moments – there’s a great scene where Cassidy hurls dollar bills to the gathered crowds below in order to create a distraction, and rookie director Asger Leth manages some nicely vertigo-inducing shots up on the ledge. But in general Man on a Ledge seems to have managed the impossible – to take a film with two in-built methods of building tension (the ledge and the heist) and make it utterly, utterly tedious.