It's difficult to say if a movie has ever had a more accurate title than "Man on a Ledge," as roughly half of the film is just that: the lead character standing on the ledge of a Manhattan high-rise hotel. While it might sound a bit bland on paper, the film itself is nothing of the sort. With sharp dialogue, a twisting plot and a healthy dose of action, "Man on a Ledge" delivers the goods as the first worthwhile action flick of 2012.
The action gets started when Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) checks into a hotel under an assumed name, wipes the room clean of fingerprints and then steps out onto the ledge. At first, no one seems to notice, but soon enough, a crowd gathers below and the police are called in. A crisis negotiator arrives, but Cassidy dismisses him, demanding to speak only to Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), a negotiator who lost a jumper a month back.
While all this is happening, the movie fills us in on Cassidy's backstory with a flashback. It seems that Cassidy is an ex-cop who was convicted of stealing a $40 million diamond from real estate mogul David Englander (Ed Harris). The diamond was never found, and Cassidy's appeals were exhausted. When word comes that his father has passed away, Cassidy attends the funeral under guard, only to seize on an opening and escape.
Now, standing on the ledge of the hotel and speaking with Mercer, Cassidy is risking it all on a huge gamble. Shut out of the court system, his only hope is to prove his innocence by convincing Mercer that he's telling the truth — or at least distracting her and the police long enough for his associates across the street to steal the diamond back from Englander's private vault, proving that it was never stolen in the first place.
With all the different moving parts in play, there's a lot going on, but director Asger Leth never strays far from the film's core strength: interpersonal conflict. We see it most directly with Cassidy and Mercer, but it's also visible in the two-person crew robbing the jewelry store. It's obvious from the start that this is the first rodeo for the robbers. Even though they've planned everything in detail, actually going through with it isn't quite as seamless as they thought. Because they're not polished, the two also have some rather genuine conflicts along the way.
As for Mercer, Cassidy picked her precisely because of her past failure. As a result, she initially trusts no one, most of all not him. Cassidy simply asks her to trust her instincts. Relying on a combination of instinct and fact, she starts to question prior assumptions and ends up putting her own neck on the line in order to see things through to the end.
Watching the character dynamic and the constant shift in power between Cassidy and Mercer is easily one of the high points of "Man on a Ledge." Both Worthington and Banks put in excellent performances as regular people who have been placed in extraordinary circumstances and pushed past their breaking points. Neither comes across as superhuman; instead, both are flawed, desperate characters in their own right. Cassidy wants vindication of his innocence, while Mercer wants vindication of her own abilities. Both want to prove the doubts of others are wrong.
Rounding out the cast of characters is Harris' Englander. As the narcissistic developer who framed Cassidy in the first place, Englander is a right bastard from the start. It's obvious that he cares about nothing more than himself and will do whatever it takes to make sure he ends up on top. Harris plays Englander with a joyful hatred, making his eventual comeuppance all the more satisfying when it actually happens.
If the personal conflicts are the meat of the show, then the stunts are the dessert. "Man on a Ledge" doesn't shy away from the physical aspect of things with explosions, car chases and even some high-rise parkour thrown in for good measure. Watching the climatic stunt on the big screen was impressive enough, though it did leave us wishing the film had been available on IMAX.
January isn't usually the best month in the calendar for action films, but "Man on a Ledge" delivers on all fronts. The dialogue is well written, performances are solid and the stunts add a nice bit of polish to the package.
"Man on a Ledge" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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