The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

THIS is an­other of those films with a self-ex­plana­tory ti­tle. It couldn’t pos­si­bly be a pi­rate movie or a biopic of Mar­garet Thatcher. And with a ti­tle like Man on a Ledge, we can be pretty sure it’s a thriller, though it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that in the early days of movies films about guys on ledges or dan­gling from high build­ings were more likely to be the stuff of slap­stick.

Harold Lloyd’s sky­scraper come­dies milked many a ner­vous laugh from our fear of heights, and in some­thing called The Horn Blows at Mid­night (1945), Jack Benny was one of six char­ac­ters hang­ing on to each other’s trousers on top of a high build­ing. Cir­cus films usu­ally in­cluded at least one funny se­quence in­volv­ing care­less trapeze artists.

Just when the man on a ledge be­came a se­ri­ous ac­tion fig­ure is hard to pin­point. Hitch­cock was a mas­ter of cliff-hang­ing sus­pense (see Sabo­teur, For­eign Cor­re­spon­dent, North by North­west), and I have un­set­tling mem­o­ries of Four­teen Hours, the clas­sic man-on-a-ledge drama from di­rec­tor Henry Hath­away, which I saw at an im­pres­sion­able age. Mer­ci­fully, Four­teen Hours ran for only 92 min­utes.

Man on a Ledge is a first fea­ture by As­ger Leth. We be­gin with a sober-look­ing guy walk­ing into the lobby of New York’s Roo­sevelt Ho­tel and book­ing a room on an up­per floor. Af­ter a hearty meal of lob­ster and cham­pagne (and a gen­er­ous tip for room ser­vice) he writes a note and steps on to the ledge out­side his room. The Roo­sevelt is one of those slightly old-fash­ioned, not-so-tall build­ings still to be found in parts of Man­hat­tan, and makes an at­trac­tive lo­ca­tion. But ap­pear­ances can be de­cep­tive. I re­mem­ber think­ing what a nice old-fash­ioned build­ing Mia Far­row was mov­ing into at the start of Rose­mary’s Baby.

Our ledge-bal­anc­ing hero turns out to be Nick Cas­sidy, a for­mer New York cop. Nick has re­cently es­caped from Sing Sing prison, where he has been serv­ing a 25-year sen­tence for a crime he didn’t com­mit. And how do we know he didn’t com­mit it? First, be­cause the story would lack any moral and dra­matic foun­da­tion if he were guilty, and sec­ond, be­cause Nick is played by our own Sam Wor­thing­ton, who ra­di­ates such an air of stolid, no-non­sense de­cency that he couldn’t pos­si­bly be a bad guy. Hav­ing starred in at least one Ter­mi­na­tor movie and played su­per­heroes in Clash of the Ti­tans and James Cameron’s Avatar, it’s quite likely that heights hold no ter­rors for him.

Man on a Ledge proves to a be a thor­oughly work­man­like and agree­ably in­ge­nious thriller that op­er­ates at many lev­els — ground level, up­per-storey level, and (at least in the scenes in the lift shaft) at var­i­ous lev­els in be­tween. And to give im­me­di­ate credit where it’s due, many shots of Worth- in­g­ton were ap­par­ently filmed on the ac­tual ho­tel ledge. A close read­ing of my press kit would sug­gest that Wor­thing­ton, while ad­mit­ting to a fear of heights, stepped on to the ledge for cer­tain shots (though for most of the ac­tion a set was built on the ho­tel roof and an­other in a stu­dio). One way or an­other, the ef­fect is bril­liantly re­al­is­tic. Few films — not even Hitch­cock’s Ver­tigo — have con­veyed so well the tummy-wrench­ing, breath-catch­ing sick­ness en­gen­dered by acro­pho­bia.

Even for those un­trou­bled by heights, it will come as a re­lief to dis­cover that Man on a Ledge isn’t just about a man on a ledge. The screen­play (by Pablo F. Fen­jves) grad­u­ally dis­closes new and more com­plex lay­ers of mean­ing. It seems Nick has been the vic­tim of a crooked prop­erty de­vel­oper, David Eng­lan­der (Ed Har­ris), a suave and plau­si­ble man about town who has framed Nick for a di­a­mond rob­bery and col­lected a for­tune in in­sur­ance on the miss­ing gem.

The open­ing shots of Nick at the ho­tel are fol­lowed by a flash­back to his prison es­cape, a finely or­ches­trated se­quence cul­mi­nat­ing in a train crash that many may find more thrilling than all the busi­ness on the ledge. Thus a man-on-ledge drama be­comes an es­cape thriller which be­comes a heist movie which leads even­tu­ally to some mild-man­nered ro­mance. That this is ac­com­plished with­out ev­ery­thing over­bal­anc­ing and fall­ing into the street is a trib­ute to the writer’s skill and the ex­cel­lence of the per­for­mances.

Nick’s ap­pear­ance on the ledge pro­vokes the usual fren­zied crowd scenes in the street. Ex­citable TV re­porters (led by Kyra Sedg­wick) are quickly on the scene, with bets be­ing taken on whether Nick will jump. Cops plead with him to come in­side. But the only po­lice ne­go­tia­tor he will talk to is Ly­dia Spencer (El­iz­a­beth Banks), who has been blamed for the ear­lier death of a jumper on the Brook­lyn Bridge.

Like Wor­thing­ton, Banks looks al­to­gether too nice to be blamed for any­thing. And she has her own in­no­cence to prove, too. Talk­ing to Nick on the ledge, a bond soon grows be­tween them. Then she no­tices he seems to be dis­tracted by events in the build­ing next door. She hears him talk­ing to some­one — but how, to whom, for what pur­pose?

It would be un­fair to re­veal more, ex­cept to say that Nick’s young brother Joey (Jamie Bell) is part of an elab­o­rate plan to trap the un­scrupu­lous Eng­lan­der, es­tab­lish Nick’s in­no­cence and re­cover the miss­ing di­a­mond.

If the story re­quires Nick to be sus­pended for long pe­ri­ods above Man­hat­tan, it also re­quires a large sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief on the part of the au­di­ence. Yes, it’s all rather far-fetched, but it works. Heist se­quences are un­fail­ingly sus­pense­ful be­cause, what­ever the char­ac­ter or mo­tives of the per­pe­tra­tors, we des­per­ately want to them to suc­ceed.

There’s a mo­ment when Joey takes a photo of an empty cor­ri­dor on his mo­bile, prints it out on the spot and holds the photo in front of a CCTV cam­era to hide the real move­ment go­ing on be­hind. With that sort of in­ge­nu­ity, any ruse de­serves to suc­ceed.

In Man in a Ledge any­thing seems pos­si­ble, even the slowly de­vel­op­ing chem­istry be­tween Nick and Ly­dia. There’s strong sup­port from An­thony Mackie as Nick’s trusted sup­porter within the NYPD and from Ed­ward Burns as a scep­ti­cal ri­val.

For all its im­prob­a­bil­i­ties, Man on a Ledge is a crafty and en­joy­able en­ter­tain­ment.

El­iz­a­beth Banks tries des­per­ately to talk Sam Wor­thing­ton down from the ledge

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