Director Asger Leth’s Man on a Ledge raises the curious premise of an escaped fugitive using a suicide threat to create his own do-it-yourself retrial, with ex-cop Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) manipulating a precarious situation on the 21st floor of a hotel building to pry open a closed investigation that landed him in the slammer with a 25 year sentence.
The scope of TV movie writer Pablo F. Fenjves’s screenplay shrinks to accommodate the less ambitious and more familiar confines of a high stakes heist, the kind in which good looking people are suspended on dangling wires in mid-air and cheat state-of-the-art sensors and cameras, ala Entrapment (1999) and Mission: Impossible, while lines of dialogues like “we need more time” accompany the clock-ticking. As a hostage-n-heist blend the film is stronger as the former, though its dual plot lines are wholly dependent on each other.
A crowd of jeering New York onlookers, police and reporters provide street level carnival, which builds into a halfhearted cynicism of media spectacle inspired by Sydney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Al Pacino hollered “Attica” way back then; a street dweller here, who appears to have strolled in from a nearby Occupy protest, does the same.
Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez, playing robberies connected to Nick’s plight, are implausible as jewel thieves, the casting of Rodriguez about squeezing in cleavage and curves, which Leth soaks up with a probing lens — not quite Michael Bay style but getting there. Worthington turns in a solid sweaty performance while Ed Harris, sucking down fat cigars, is largely wasted as the bad guy.
Tenuous plot strings pull together surprisingly well for a vertiginous pulse-pounding finale, even if a dopy line from a TV journalist almost undoes the last minute scramble for closure. Like its protagonist, Man on a Ledge lingers on a precipice, caught between imminently forgettable cinema and something greater.
Man on a Ledge’s Australian theatrical release date: February 2, 2012.