Man on a Ledge was directed by Asger Leth (Move On, I Walk), written by Pablo F. Fenjves (Her Evil Twin) and stars Sam Worthington (The Last Son, Terminator Salvation), Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy, Slither), Jamie Bell (Rocketman, 6 Days), Genesis Rodriguez (Hours, Big Hero 6), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Adjustment Bureau), Edward Burns (Alex Cross, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas), Titus Welliver (Escape Plan 2: Hades, The Town) and Ed Harris (Run All Night, Apollo 13). It’s about a man threatening to jump from a building to prove a point, bringing attention to the area while his brother attempts to aid his stunt.
The Plot: While outwardly similar to Phone Booth, Man on a Ledge finds its niche with relative ease, being a straightforward crowd-pleaser that doesn’t offer quite as much as it could have, but never lands with the dull thud it would’ve had without the crew and cast that put it together.
After having escaped prison during his father’s funeral and faking a new identity, ex-cop Nick (Worthington) checks into the Roosevelt hotel and walks onto the ledge for everyone to see. Fenjves uses a short, framed narrative that does summon initial intrigue but the premise already had that going, making that choice irrelevant. Once officers Dougherty (Burns) and Marcus (Welliver) are called and can’t get Nick down, he requests detective Mercer (Banks).
Once she arrives, so do Nick’s brother Joey (Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (Rodriguez) who Nick instructs to infiltrate billionaire Englander’s (Harris) building and steal a diamond to prove Nick’s innocence before the cops get angry, he decides to jump, or the diamond isn’t found. That’s a lot to make fit together and explain, and Leth mostly accomplishes that task.
While both of those things are going on, Nick’s ex-partner Mike (Mackie) is engaged in the less connected thread around finding out who’s on the ledge. Since the other cops are already doing the same thing, there’s another redundancy. There are a few more of those and some Deus ex Machina that strain plausibility, but the eventual reveals, character developments and heist sequences cover up the blemishes with the sheer nauseating thrill of it all.
The Characters: For the first act Man on a Ledge obfuscates its players, denying viewers much aside from basic names and occupations for 25 minutes of the 102-minute runtime. It’s a gamble that mostly pays.
Nick’s history and his plan are all effectively drip-fed to the audience, although it’s clear from the beginning that he’s not out on the edge to do something nefarious. Nick had been kicked off the force and imprisoned for the alleged theft of Englander’s 40-million-dollar diamond, always maintaining his innocence and never caving to giving a false confession. He’s headstrong, which is made even more clear by his planning and mere presence on the Roosevelt. While that’s not much in the way of characterization, for this kind of movie, having a decent blue-collar hero is enough to earn attachment.
Mercer has a checkered past of getting hostages freed and jumpers inside. The way she attaches herself to Nick is (from an outsider’s perspective anyway) organic. She initially views him as another job before she arrives but sees that there’s more going on with Nick and eventually she and the spectators below begin to side with him. She’s a good cop, able to lull Nick into giving clues about his identity and goal and never comes across the wrong way. Joey is good as rough and tumble support as well as minor comic relief, even if there are moments where his successes are questionable.
It’s the antagonist, Englander, that feels out of place; like an early Bond villain in his monologues about being on top and bitterness towards any inconvenience. It’s a good thing that Harris was cast because without him and the character’s lesser amount of screen time, he wouldn’t have worked in the same functional but entertaining way the others do.
The Thrills: Man on a Ledge starts at a high point (pun if you want it) with the unknown of Nick’s identity and the reason for him being so close to death. For a while, the movie runs with the mystery of why if not the who, and every time that Nick looks down and the camera pans over, all but the most experienced climbers will feel the suspense of the setting putting in work for the film.
Once Man on a Ledge begins splitting its focus to illustrate the heist, there’s even more tension to be had as the movie makes interesting obstacles for Joey and Angie and allow for some lo-fi, blue-collared ingenuity to create solutions to things like a heat sensor and even the rudimentary security camera; and a nice reference to the iconic scene of Ethan Hunt hanging by a rope over a sensor-laden floor from the first Mission: Impossible.
As Joey and Angie make their way to the vault Man on a Ledge does have one stellar surprise which occurs as the cops identify Nick and threaten to send SWAT to pull him back in or take him out, whichever comes first. While there are a couple of lulls as the movie leans hard on its premise, it does very well in escalating its tension from various angles and by the time it comes close to wearing out its welcome it ratchets up its thrills again, even if credibility is sacrificed in the third act.
The Technics: Man on a Ledge brings a slickness to its high concept. From the location shoot to the star power, and to the number of things able to be performed without ever looking cheap or showing shoddy narrative construction bar the initial escape and link to Mike’s plot thread.
Leth doesn’t have the most unique direction or a great score to accompany it either, but there’s gravitas gained from the sound design and camerawork showing and embracing the suspense of being 21 floors up and fulfilling the movie’s premise. The pacing is on point too, with the movie hardly ever becoming boring and always introducing a new element to keep the momentum and stakes up. The small flaws from the production standpoint relate to Rodriguez and Mackie, who are out of their elements and don’t quite have the right idea of how to play their characters.
As a visceral thriller and middle-class wish fulfillment, Man on a Ledge largely succeeds in providing an engaging plot, likeable leads, intense moments and dizzying heights. Though it’s redundant at times and ventures into unbelievability on occasion, it’s a solid thriller with good ideas.
Man on a Ledge is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Lionsgate. It’s also available on various Digital platforms, you can check JustWatch to find one in your country.