In advance of the premier of I Hate My Teenage Daughter, one of Fox’s newest sitcoms about just that, Slate published a thought-provoking, if somewhat cumbersome, piece by contributing writer Jacob Rubin about the entertainment’s industry latest obsession with titles that tell us exactly what we’re about to watch. Obvious offenders include 2 Broke Girls, Bridesmaids, and, of course, Snakes on a Plane. In his write-up, Rubin argues that this phenomenon is the consequence of today’s rabid hunger for quick-hit information, making short titles that get straight to the point good business. “The stories we are told,” Rubin concludes, “center, more and more, on how stories are sold.”
So when promos for Man on a Ledge began showing up on screens large and small, it was tempting to write the film off as another tactless thriller for those dumb enough to pay for a ticket, another profit-turning trick of the trade.
Fortunately, director Asger Leth’s new film is more than just its title. Man on a Ledge is a fun, creative and captivating story that seamlessly ties together multiple plot threads while presenting the audience with a fast-paced and genuinely funny script.
From the outset, the movie, starring Sam Worthington and Elizabeth Banks, is both everything one might anticipate and yet not at all what one might expect. Within the first 10 minutes, Nick Cassidy (Worthington), a former NYPD officer and the film’s protagonist, is standing hundreds of feet above midtown New York on a ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel. Soon after, we learn Cassidy was sentenced to 25 years for having stolen the Monarch Diamond from David Englander (Ed Harris), a prominent and vicious businessman. Cassidy has maintained his innocence throughout the two years he’s already served but is slowly crumbling under the weight of being locked up. In a seemingly lucky turn of fortune, Cassidy escapes during his father’s funeral outside the prison walls—and the plan to prove his innocence is set in motion.
What follows are multiple storylines that all revolve around the man on a ledge. Cassidy, along with his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and Joey’s girlfriend, Angie (Génesis Rodriguez), has planned an intricate plot during the past year to re-steal the Monarch Diamond from Englander. (Nick assumes Englander set him up to collect insurance on the diamond after it was “stolen,” but in fact still owns the rare jewel.) Nick plays the jumper, drawing the attention of the NYPD and a gaggle of pedestrians away from Joey and Angie, who are breaking into Englander’s office across the street. Simultaneously, Nick, who’s been able to remain anonymous to the NYPD until now, works vigorously on lead negotiator Lydia Mercer (Banks) to convince her that Englander fabricated the entire Monarch Diamond theft.
As the plot rolls along, Mercer becomes increasingly convinced of Nick’s innocence, and eventually learns of his plot from Nick himself. From there, it’s a race against time: Can Mercer persuade the NYPD that Nick is innocent before its officers arrest him? Will Joey and Angie get to the Monarch Diamond before Englander and his minions do?
Despite its many narrative threads, Man on a Ledge is easy to follow and exciting to watch unfold, making for a highly digestible and entertaining film. It’s also the dramatic thriller promised by the promos. From the moment Cassidy walks into the Roosevelt, viewers are treated to one development after another, the plot moving as quickly as the theft taking place across the street.
Each character’s script adds to the movie’s momentum, largely because of how funny they are. Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns), one of Mercer’s colleagues, is the film’s comedic relief, injecting pointed one-liners at all the right times; Joey and Angie are constantly at each other’s throats during the heist, shooting quick-witted, sexually driven banter at one another; and Nick, whose situation has put him at the center of New York City, is increasingly egged on by the onlookers and media below, many of whom are not-so-quietly hoping he jumps.
Despite its bland title, Man on a Ledge is an imaginative thriller that trades the head-scratching plot twists, gruesome fight scenes and desperate love affairs so typical of the genre these days for a really fun, well-written movie. And that, in this era of see-through titles, is still the best way to sell a story.
Director: Asger Leth
Writer: Pablo F. Fenjves
Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Ed Harris, Ed Burns, Jamie Bell, Génesis Rodriguez
Release Date: Jan.27, 2012