The best thrillers work not because of a strict adherence to logic and realism, but because they move fast enough for us to overlook plot holes and illogic behavior; while we can pick them apart in retrospect, we’ve (hopefully) had a good enough time while the action was unfolding.
Asger Leth’s Man on a Ledge is approximately half a good thriller. No coincidence: it works, to the extent it does, by obscuring its plot as long as it can, for about half of the movie.
Unfortunately, if you’ve seen the trailer, which gives away the whole plot, you know exactly what’s going on. To compound matters, what’s going on doesn’t make any sense, on just about any level.
But go in cold, and you’ll have at least half a good time. Man on a Ledge opens with an intriguing premise, namely the titular man, Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), and, yup, you guessed it, he’s on the titular ledge, at the 21st floor of the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown Manhattan. Why is he up there, threatening suicide? You’ll learn soon enough, though you may wish you hadn’t.
The NYPD, represented by Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns) and Dante Marcus (Titus Welliver), is on the case. But Nick will only talk to negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks). He seems to be buying time; we know what they don’t, that Nick is a former police officer, and current escaped convict, arrested for stealing a $40 million diamond from tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris).
Despite the notoriety, it takes the current investigators a lot longer to figure out his identity. They dust the entire room for prints, returning no results; how long do they figure he’ll be up there? And why does he bother to wipe down the room, as if this is the most likely means of identification? But I’m nitpicking…
Meanwhile, there’s a whole ‘nother plot going on. Without revealing too much, it involves Nick’s brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (the curvaceous Genesis Rodriguez) and an extremely unlikely heist scenario (with overtones of the recent Tower Heist) that depends on an absurd amount of luck and circumstance and convenient skill sets. Still, this isn’t where Man on a Ledge falls apart…
Slowly, the layers are revealed, and the two plotlines come together, and…this was the big plan? It’s pretty ridiculous stuff, only somewhat salvaged by the fact that it doesn’t exactly work out. And then comes the climax, which requires every character in the movie to abandon all logic so the movie may come to its expected – but utterly illogical – conclusion.
Man on a Ledge is a strange choice of feature debut for director Leth – son of Danish director (and mentor to Lars von Trier) Jørgen Leth – who previously collaborated on von Trier’s (and the elder Leth’s) excellent filmmaking doc The Five Obstructions and directed the memorable Ghosts of Cité Soleil.
One wonders what drew him to this preposterous script – by Pablo F. Fenjves, who also ghost wrote the O.J. Simpson memoir If I Did It – but there are inklings that the original concept might have been different, with a greater focus on the mystery angle.
To his credit, Leth handles the action more than competently, and even displays some inventive camerawork. And Man on a Ledge is surprisingly coherent for a contemporary thriller – even if you might wish it wasn’t.
The end result, in any event, is supremely silly stuff. But take it on that level, and it’s at least half a good thriller.