Okay, so maybe after seeing Tom Cruise scale the tallest building in the world in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, 21 stories doesn't seem that high... but it's still a long way down. And I'd be willing to bet Sam Worthington didn't do all his own stunts in this movie.
Man on a Ledge is a heist film with a great hook, a fast pace, and a major letdown of an ending. For about 80 minutes, it crackles along at a breakneck pace, building suspense and tension, switching back and forth between three destined-to-converge plotlines, and getting viewers ready for... a colossal collapse. The film's sloppy resolution isn't just hard to swallow (that's a given for any movie of this sort and goes with the territory) but is so outrageously stupid that it wastes a lot of its hard-won goodwill. Okay, so on balance, Man on a Ledge is fun, but I left the theater feeling disappointed and cheated, as if the filmmakers set me up for something great they ultimately couldn't deliver.
The premise borrows a little from two of the Die Hard films (the first and third ones, to be precise) - that of using a big, public spectacle as a distraction from a robbery. (Related Trivia: the Big Bad Guy from Die Hard 2, William Sadler, has a small part in this movie as a valet.) Admittedly, it was done better in the Bruce Willis movies, but the idea has survived intact to Man on a Ledge. In this case, the distraction is the suicide watch for the title character, ex-cop and escaped convict Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), who opens the window to his 21st floor hotel room and wanders out onto a catwalk. This results in the arrival of two NYPD officers, Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) and Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns), trying to talk him down while a massive crowd gathers below. Meanwhile, across the street, Nick's brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and Joey's girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), are breaking into the ultra-secure inner sanctum of diamond merchant David Englander (Ed Harris). Their goal: find the evidence that Englander set Nick up to take the fall for a multi-million dollar robbery that sent the former police officer to Sing Sing.
There's a lot to like about Man on a Ledge, not the least of which is the no-nonsense, rapid-fire manner in which Asger Leth makes his feature debut. There's not a lot of fat here - every scene either advances the plot or gives us a white-knuckle moment. Leth also injects a fair amount of humor into what could be a grim tale - this comes primarily through the occasionally comedic byplay between amateur heist artists Joey and Angie as they execute their convoluted plan to make it through Englander's security system. It's also refreshing to encounter characters like these in a film of this sort - smart but not experienced. They have a lot of good ideas but don't always execute them to perfection.
Sam Worthington has a thankless job, doing little more than standing on a ledge 200 feet above a New York intersection while trying to convince Lydia that he's an innocent man. Worthington is fine in the role, with a performance that's more solid than his variable American accent. Meanwhile, Banks starts out the movie with a more interesting character than she concludes it with - although the opening scene, in which she wears a translucent white tee-shirt, provides a little eye candy. As the villain, Ed Harris is lackluster, but that could be the result of limited screen time. He sneers a lot but doesn't have much else to do.
The ending represents one mistake built upon another. Although the movie as a whole has credulity problems, many of those will not be noticed until afterward (fulfilling Alfred Hitchcock's primary requirement for a "refrigerator movie"). Unfortunately, the final fifteen minutes are written and executed so sloppily that the contrivances and script contortions become apparent in real time. Much of what happens is not only improbable and impractical but nonsensical. The final fifteen minutes also appears rushed, perhaps in the hope that with so many things happening so fast, the audience won't have time to recognize how dumb everything has become.
For a January movie - a time of the year when the studios dump productions they don't feel have the cache to survive during warmer and/or more competitive seasons - Man on a Ledge is respectable. It almost delivers - or, more appropriately, it does deliver, albeit not for the entire running length. Those who are more forgiving of lame endings than I am may walk away having enjoyed themselves. I'm more picky in that I demand an entire package from a movie and Man on a Ledge's end-game deficiencies twist my thumb from "up" to "marginally down."