Asger Leth’s Man on a Ledge is everything you hoped it would be, provided what you were hoping for was a lazy, personality-free sleepwalk of a heist thriller. It is the sort of movie that typifies the cliché of January serving primarily as a dumping-ground for movies unlikely to snag a more meaningful fraction of box office tickets any other month of the year. If there is any justice in the world, moviegoers will take this week’s Oscar nominations more seriously as a consumer guide than the marketing campaign for this hopelessly dull movie.
To its credit, the movie makes good on its title’s promise from the get-go. It opens to Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), an unjustly convicted man on the lam, checking in to a major ritzy hotel under a false name. He enters his room, enjoys a savory final meal and proceeds to plant his feet on the ledge outside his suite’s window, some twenty or so stories above the New York City pavement. And there you have it: the movie’s title, Man on a Ledge, justifies its own existence. In total fairness, the few minutes opening the movie have an uncommonly well-paced deliberation about them, and establish an appropriately ominous tone.
Where the movie falters is in the 95 minutes or so that follow, which essentially make the mistake of addressing practically all the questions that opening raises, like “why is Nick standing on this ledge?” or “how did he get falsely imprisoned?” or “why are we following this parallel story involving Nick’s brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey’s girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) breaking in to the well-secured offices of a sinister corporate mogul (Ed Harris) right across the street?” Answers to all those questions are revealed before the end credits roll; apparently, it’s all centered around the aforementioned sinister corporate mogul. Leth fails, however, to answer the most important question of all: “Why should we care?”
The actors working from Leth’s direction and an equally mirthless script by Pablo F. Fenjves don’t exactly bend over backwards getting us to care either. Considering the cast they roped in, that’s really saying something. Worthington, whom I frequently must remind myself starred in the highest-grossing movie of all time, applies his signature “bland protagonist” acting method as Nick. The cops who attempt to call Nick off the ledge are played by Edward Burns and Elizabeth Banks. Banks, very enjoyable in her 30 Rock and Zack and Miri roles, is asked to hit a wide range of pathos-free emotions, everything from “insecure albeit sexy blonde crisis negotiator” to “emotionally incompetent albeit sexy blonde crisis negotiator.” Burns appears as if he is too preoccupied mentally budgeting how his Ledge paycheck might cover the cost for his indie film Newlyweds.
Most painful to watch are Bell and Rodriguez, upon whom most of Man on a Ledge’s heist antics are dependent. Most of the interactions of these romantically involved burglars center around the amusing irony of witnessing a couple inappropriately bickering in the midst of a high-stakes robbery. Since not one of the countless generic lines they are asked to deliver is even remotely amusing or revealing of their relationship, their moments together fail to deliver tension of any kind, romantic or otherwise.
The only actor who seems on board with the movie is Harris, who actually appears to relish in his role as a maleficent one-percenter. But we gather the only reason for his existence is to endow the looting heroes of Man on a Ledge with an ill-conceived semblance of moral prerogative. It’s not enough that we are being asked to identify with the masterminds behind the heist; we have to believe they are ethically justified. It’s an insincere and oddly cynical move – producing a studio movie intended to gross millions, enticing the lowly consumer by exploiting their general anger toward a financial industry that purportedly screwed them over. It’s also a cynical move that might actually have worked, had the movie itself been anything better than the cookie-cutter slog it truly is.
Bottom Line: Man on a Ledge is a lazy, hopelessly generic heist thriller that will be forgotten even before the final credits start to roll.