When a guy steps onto a narrow ledge, many stories above a messy bit of New York City asphalt, you figure it is someone in dire straights taking desperate measures. In “Man on a Ledge” that guy is an ex-cop, convicted felon and recent prison escapee played by Sam Worthington — a situation that is about as fraught as it gets. And yet, Worthington’s Nick Cassidy doesn’t seem all that frantic, in fact, except for a couple of deep breaths he barely breaks a sweat.
I, on the other hand, was gripping anything in reach, palms dripping, thinking I might not have survived the effects had they been 3-D. Though there were other production sites, serious time was spent actually shooting on that 14-inch ledge wrapping the 21st floor of the Roosevelt Hotel to create the vicarious sensation of being there. Which worked frighteningly well, at least for the vertiginous among us. Oh, that the actual human dynamics of the unfolding story could have been as dramatic, as on the edge as that ledge.
Since that is not the case, let’s give props to the real stars, and the reason for any of the thrills in this otherwise strangely flat film: director of photography Paul Cameron, production designer Alec Hammond, art director David Swayze, visual effects supervisor Richard Kidd and the rest of the crew.
Directed by Asger Leth from a patchy script written by Pablo F. Fenjves, a specialist in B-movie thrillers of “The Devil’s Child” and “Twilight Man” sort, the film starts on the ground with Cassidy’s escape from a no-parole life. It’s the kind of fast-moving sequence that begins with bruising body blows and ends with harrowing car chases, which suits Worthington’s action-hero talents, though better showcased in “Avatar” and “Terminator Salvation.” After a quick bit of cleaning up, a nice dinner and some champagne, Nick steps onto that ledge as part of a bold and clearly risky bid to prove his innocence.
And that’s where the trouble begins. As promised, this is about a man on a ledge and Nick will spend a great deal of the rest of the film clinging, balancing, or inching this way and that, along it. A precarious position to be sure, but one that requires a kind of naked performance that allows the audience to experience the risk-reward churn that must be going on somewhere inside. That we don’t get.
Nick does attract the crowd of witnesses he wants, as a jumper will do, and the 24-hour news teams, with Kyra Sedgwick doing a caricature of the vulture culture as a brassy TV reporter. Meanwhile, Nick refuses to talk to anyone but NYPD negotiator Lydia Spencer (Elizabeth Banks). Lydia has a bad rap tied to the death of a rookie cop that she failed to talk down from a bridge.
Like Lydia, Banks can’t seem to catch a break. She stepped up in interesting ways in the indie “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” opposite Seth Rogen, but more often she’s landed in roles that don’t ask much. Here she’s supposed to telegraph tough and vulnerable in the snatches of conversation she has out the window with Nick, but she’s not given the time or the text to pull it off.
While Lydia tries to talk him down, Nick’s brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey’s girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are across the street trying to pull off a high-tech heist that will theoretically crack the case wide open. It involves Ed Harris as a corrupt real estate mogul who had a hand in sending Cassidy to jail.
Ed Burns, Lydia’s rival on the force, and Anthony Mackie as Cassidy’s former partner and best friend, drift in and out making an effort try to juice the plot. But the only two who actually spice things up are Bell and Rodriguez, racing against time while sniping and slipping though some fleeting sexually charged moments.
In “Man on a Ledge,” Leth does well in taking us to dizzying heights. If only he had found a way to ground that thrill in some real pathos as well.