Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) checks into an expensive motel, enjoys a hearty breakfast then calmly steps out onto the window ledge where he seemingly intends to jump. Onlookers alert the police. Detectives Jack Dougherty (Ed Burns) and Dante Marcus (Titus Welliver) arrive at the scene, but Nick insists he will only talk to negotiator, Detective Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks). Mercer isn’t happy about this given her last case ended in the death of a fellow officer, earning her the nickname “the Grim Reaper.” Nevertheless she sets out to talk Nick down but slowly discovers there is more going on here than meets the eye.
Man on a Ledge marks an unusual Hollywood debut for Danish director Asgar Leth. Formerly of the Dogme school, Leth made the Hatian docudrama Ghosts of Cité Soleil (2006) and served as co-writer with Lars von Trier on The Five Obstructions (2003), none of which he adheres to here. Written by Pablo Fenves, whose numerous schlock TV movie credits include The Devil’s Child (1997) and Murder on Spec (2006), the script packs allusions to taut Seventies thrillers like Dog Day Afternoon (1975) sharing a similar cynicism about the amorality of the television news reporting and New Yorkers in general as crowds start baying at Nick to jump. But the film is not really interested in social commentary.
As things play out the film this really resembles is The Negotiator (1998). Flashbacks reveal Nick was a disgraced cop jailed for corruption. Released from jail to attend his father’s funeral, he escaped custody and went on the run, enraging his already estranged kid brother Joey (Jamie Bell). His suicide bid appears to be part of a desperate bid to prove his innocence. Or is it? For it appears Nick is in radio contact with none other than Joey who is across the street with his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), breaking into a hi-tech vault owned by wealthy business tycoon, David Englander (Ed Harris). Leth lends a gritty texture to the action belying the frothy nature of the story itself, yet has a shakier hold over his suspense sequences.
Despite weaving an undeniably intriguing plot, the film stretches credibility to its absolute limit and the characters are ultimately paper thin. Distractions abound from Worthington’s wavering American accent to shots lingering on Rodriguez’s impressive pink push-up bra. Worthington grimaces earnestly, Banks gives it her all despite being miscast and the film wastes Kyra Sedgwick and Ed Burns in almost nonexistent roles, but Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez are quite winning as the bickering thieves. Parallels can also be drawn with the recent Tower Heist (2012), another film where a group of victimised but resourceful regular folks team up to take down a corporate crook, tapping the current swell of resentment towards corrupt captains of industry. Neither film says anything especially profound about the state of the world economy today, but those willing to run with its increasingly outlandish plot twists may find Man on a Ledge fairly agreeable, if forgettable fun. It is worth watching just to see what other silly surprises the plot can spring out of the bag.