There's an early scene in Man on a Ledge where the main character does something strange: He easily opens a New York City hotel window. Okay, yes, he also climbs through said window to assume the title role. Also strange. But anyone who's ever been to a high-rise hotel in a big city will tell you that the windows are sealed tighter than a Hollywood starlet in a pair of Spanx.

Why is this important? I'll get to that in a minute.

First you should know that our man on the ledge is Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), an ex-cop who's just broken out of prison. He was serving a 25-year sentence in Sing Sing for a stealing a huge diamond from a crooked rich guy. Nick was framed, of course, but this could never be proven because, as we later learn, there were some inside people involved in the cover up.

Sam Worthington as Nick Cassidy

Sam Worthington as Nick Cassidy

Let out of prison for a day for his dad's funeral, Nick manages to escape and go about trying to prove his innocence. His standing out on that ledge is part of the plan—and so is an intricate heist going on across the street. Another part of the plan is requesting forensic psychologist Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) as his main contact with authorities, a woman just jaded and blonde enough to trust him and his rugged good looks.

Worthington does a decent job as a good cop turned angsty inmate turned calculating fugitive turned would-be jumper, especially given that he spends most of the movie balancing on a foot or so of concrete. It's nice to see Jamie Bell, who plays Nick's younger brother Joey, out of his typical dancing shoes and period-piece dress. He's likable here, even if he is a goofy klutz one moment and a smooth criminal the next.

Most of the rest of the cast are given such flimsy material to work with that I don't really blame them for coming across as caricatures. We barely see psychologist Mercer, the one person allowed to speak with Nick, doing anything to talk him off the ledge. Oh wait, she does tell him to visualize a happy place. So helpful, that. Instead she spends most of her time inside the hotel room complaining to her fellow cops. We don't believe her as a cop, as a psychologist, or as a person who really cares if Nick careens to his death or not.

Elizabeth Banks as Lydia Mercer

Elizabeth Banks as Lydia Mercer

David Englander (Ed Harris), our baddie du jour and the guy Nick supposedly stole the diamond from, is a wealthy, opportunistic suit who chuckles sadistically while swirling his scotch. Suzie Morales (Kyra Sedgwick) is a local TV news personality who helps whip the street-level observers into a frenzy while angling for the best camera angle for where the body might fall. And the crowd gathered to watch the man on the ledge at first cries "Jump! Jump!" and then by the end of the film morphs into a gang of wanna-be Occupy Wall Street-ers throwing punches at the police. It's hard to tell if the screenwriter thinks humanity is really that awful or if he's just that unimaginative.

Oh, it's really not that bad for the first half or so. The set-up is interesting enough. Who doesn't like a good heist, a rousing good-guy-proving-his-innocence story? It's just the execution and follow-through that are lacking here. And the plausibility.

The fact that I noticed the hotel window issue speaks to the film's uneven and implausible plot. A successful thriller/heist movie will make you forget those inevitable inaccuracies and absurdities—or, even better, make you not even care that they're inaccurate or absurd. You're too busy enjoying the characters and the story.

Ed Harris as David Englander

Ed Harris as David Englander

While I did forget about this plausibility question for about the first half of the film, it came back, along with a host of other continuity and believability issues, by the film's pretty ridiculous second half.

Besides the window issue, there's the fact that someone notices Nick on the 25th-floor ledge in about four seconds, the fact that stealing a diamond gets Nick 25 years in a maximum security prison, the fact that he survives a wicked car crash during his prison escape completely unscathed, the fact that several single female New Yorkers manage to make their way onto nearby rooftops to wave signs asking Nick if he's single. And don't get me started on the believability of the diamond heist.

Jamie Bell as Joey Cassidy

Jamie Bell as Joey Cassidy

Incidentally, I watched The Italian Job again a few months ago. That heist was a much bigger affair than the diamond nab in Man on a Ledge—smuggling gold bars in a series of Mini Coopers throughout the streets and subways of Los Angeles. Even with the bigger task, the larger plausibility leap, they certainly provided that willing suspension of disbelief. And with an immensely likable cast and enjoyable ride to boot.

Sadly, we have neither in Man on a Ledge. There are a few funny moments, a few impressive heist maneuvers. But the whole doesn't hang together, even as the film wraps up oh-so-neatly.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Why does Nick ask for Lydia Mercer? What do these two have in common?
  2. In one scene Nick tells Lydia he's ready to die. Do you think he really is ready to die? Why?
  3. What do you think of the crowd's response to seeing a man on a ledge? How would you react? What, if anything, would you yell up to him?
Article continues below
  1. Did you see the twist at the end coming? If so, when did you begin to suspect the truth?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Man on a Ledge is rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. The violence occurs mostly when Nick breaks free from the prison guards—some fist fights, some shooting, a car crash. There's nothing gratuitous, no blood or gore. The brief language is one f-bomb. The rest of the movie is pretty clean. Some authorities turn out to be corrupt. Joey's girlfriend strips down to her lacey underwear during the heist scene, in which she also discusses her previous sexual liaisons.

Man on a Ledge
Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(2 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for violence and brief strong language)
Directed By
Asger Leth
Run Time
1 hour 42 minutes
Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell
Theatre Release
January 27, 2012 by Summit Entertainment
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