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Man on a Ledge is a colossally dumb heist movie that works more often than it doesn’t in spite of the filmmakers’ best efforts to maim it. The fact that director Asger Leth and writer Pablo F. Fenjves think this is a smart thriller feels insulting: it’s riddled with cliches and more than a little preposterous. But perhaps because it goes for the jugular—or maybe because of the decidedly populist undertones that one can’t help but find a little pleasure in—Man on a Ledge ends on a note that’s pretty satisfying, at least compared to your average January popcorn flick.
Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) is said man on ledge, and he’s going out there after spending two years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit—the theft of a $40-million diamond from a wealthy real estate mogul, David Englander (Ed Harris). But he’s not going to kill himself. He’s going to free himself. Weeks before he steps onto the ledge, he escapes prison with the help of his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and Joey’s girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez). The three of them come up with a plan that will prove Englander set Nick up in order to cash in on a big payday. See, the diamond is still housed in New York—right across the street from the ledge where Nick is currently standing. So with the eyes of New York all on him, Joey and Angie can slip in relatively undetected to grab the diamond and clear up Nick’s name for good.
It’s a convoluted plot (and far from the easiest way to prove Nick’s innocence), but at least it gives the film a frenetic pace. Considering it’s essentially about a guy who stands on a ledge, a lot happens, but with so much happening, the film begins to feel like a runaway train. And as we know from Unstoppable, only two things can happen when a train is out of control: someone can toggle the breaks just in time, or it can go screaming off the rails. It’s the latter for Man on a Ledge. That’s not to say it’s not a fun wreck to watch, but when Leth is going for tension, you’ll be howling with laughter.
One of the major themes of Man on a Ledge is that of a little guy who’s fighting tooth and nail against “The Man.” With corrupt cops and even more corrupt billionaires trying to bring him down, the city rallies for Nick, which makes him an appealing hero (despite Worthington’s best efforts to do the opposite). There’s a little bit of 99 percent vs. 1 percent going on in this film, and because success for Nick seems impossible, you might find yourself wrapped up in the proceedings more than you’d care to be.
The acting is a mixed bag.. Sam Worthington, despite being the lead, gives easily the worst performance in the film. There comes a point where he has nothing left to do on the ledge but stall for time, and you can really feel it. Beyond those shortcomings, which are probably more a fault of the screenplay, he’s not up to par. His accent is all kinds of awful, and he’s just never able to make us feel his desperation in a way that he’d resort to something so crazy.
At least his family is more appealing. Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez are super charming and genuinely funny. They aren’t exactly world-class thieves, they’re just doing the best they can, and seeing them flail around this high-security vault sounds horrible but is actually quite entertaining.
Harris doesn’t have enough to do as the villain. He leaves a very minor impression. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Banks is playing against type as a slightly strung-out cop who’s trying to talk Nick off the ledge. She’s solid, if unmemorable.
Is Man on a Ledge worth your time and money? Perhaps, as long as you’re not expecting the next great heist movie. There is a little bit of Spike Lee’s Inside Man in this film, but where that film exuded coolness and intelligence, this one is entertaining because it’s ridiculous. The more you think about it, the more the film’s flaws will jump out at you, but turn your brain off, and you might have a great time.