The caper film is a well established genre with some notable and entertaining entries released in the recent past. The success of the Oceans trilogy (well eleven and thirteen at least) is a good example of films, if done well, show there is still some mileage in the Genre. Of course if the subject is tackled carelessly and with little respect for the audience the finished product ends up like Oceans 12. The latest film in this genre is the 2012 film Man on a Ledge from director Asger Leth and writer Pablo F. Fenjves.
The film opens with Nick (Sam Worthington) checking into a hotel in central New York. He insists that he gets the room he has pre-booked, refusing a free upgrade to a better suite. He orders a large breakfast, eats, and then steps out onto the ledge at his hotel window. He is soon noticed by passers-by on the street far below. The authorities are alerted to a possible suicide attempt. When the police arrive on the scene initial attempts at coaxing him in are thwarted by Nick’s insistence that he only talks to a specific investigator, Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks).
Via a flashback we get Nick’s back story. He was a police officer imprisoned for the theft of a priceless diamond that he was tasked with escorting. Nick has always maintained his innocence. After several months in Jail he is allowed out on escorted day release to attend his fathers funeral. At the graveside he gets into a heated argument with his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) which leads to a fist fight. As Nick’s guards try to stop the fight Nick manages to grab a weapon and make his escape.
Now on the ledge, negotiating with the Police, it becomes apparent that something else is going on. The owner of the stolen diamond, David Englander (Ed Harris), is in the same hotel to give a press conference regarding his latest building project. This is the first major project for Englander since his precious diamond was lost and the insurance money was paid out. Why is Nick stalling for time on the ledge. What is purpose and just what is going on?
The film as a whole doesn’t have very many surprises. The plot is a well used and familiar one. What does separate it from the crowd is the quality of the film making. It has a strong, entertaining screenplay that gives the cast something to work with. It’s always good to see actors given the chance to develop a character within a story. The story and it’s execution do not have any dull moments. The film moves along at a brisk pace. Sam Worthington is actually rather good in this. In the past his work has been overshadowed by the films he has been involved in. They tended to be visually spectacular where the actors are treated like another part of the scenery. His character in this is believable and engaging. The character is portrayed as an intelligent but vulnerable human being. He has flaws and doubts.
The negotiator, Lydia, played by Elizabeth Banks pulls of a good performance in a role that could easily have been a one note character. On paper it looks like a clichéd role. A negotiator who failed on her last job resulting in a death, turning to drink and becoming an outcast within the force. Banks plays it just right and avoids the pitfalls often associated with this type of role. Ed Burns is cast as the main police officer on the scene. He is the only cop who shows any compassion and understanding towards Lydia. In a small role Burns shines and it would have been interesting to see more of his character as he is a proven and versatile actor.
The supporting cast is fleshed out with some top level names. Jamie Bell is solid as the brother. Having seen him in several films, large and small, over the last few years it is good to see that he has consistently been a reliable and interesting screen presence. Ed Harris is as entertaining as ever. He brings his a game to all his roles and this is no exception. A memorable character. Englander oozes corporate evil but Harris avoids turning him into some panto villain by using a level of restraint in his performance.
The look of the film is very interesting. Full use is made of the locations inside and outside of the hotel. There are nice contrasts between the closed in feel of the rooms and the expanse just below Nicks feet on the outside of the building. A variety of camera angles emphasis the tension at the right times. Quick edits that do not lose sight of the story and the energy, accompanied by an insistent musical score provide the viewer with another level of viewing pleasure.
Man on a Ledge is not something that will particularly surprise you but it is a very well made and entertaining movie. Recommended.