A man checks into a luxury hotel under the name "Walker." After an expensive dinner and champagne, he writes a note... and climbs out the window onto a narrow stone ledge.
Welcome to the scenario that opens "Man on a Ledge," which is literally about a man sitting on a ledge to try to prove his innocence. The idea isn't half bad, but the casting of the eternally blank-faced Sam Worthington pretty much deflates the intensity -- the rest of the cast is quite good, but when the plot hinges around a person sitting on a ledge, they better be good.
Two years ago, Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) was accused of stealing a massive diamond from wealthy businessman David Englander (Ed Harris), and was sentenced to 25 years. When he's allowed a day out for his father's funeral, Nick escapes from his guards, picks up a cache of money and other supplies, and checks into the hotel. See above description of what happens.
Expecting a suicidal jumper, a massive crowd forms below, while the police try to figure out who Cassidy is and why he's up there. He refuses to talk to anyone except depressed negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks). But unknown to the cops, Nick's younger brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey's girlfriend Angie (Génesis Rodríguez) are infiltrating a nearby building, where they plan to prove his innocence -- by stealing the missing diamond.
"Man on a Ledge" is another one of those movies that might have been simply sublime... if Alfred Hitchcock weren't dead. It has an intriguing idea, and a challenge that most Hollywood movies won't set up for themselves -- what if the hero of the piece barely ever moved from the ledge he's standing on, holding himself hostage in front of all of New York City?
So how does this movie fail? That would be Sam Worthington. This man has the acting ability of a tortoise who just smoked a giant bag of weed -- he never registers any emotions like fear, anxiety, rage or depression. Actually, he barely registers any emotions, period. It's like watching a lifelike robot trying to imitate humans, and failing.
A role like this one needs Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, (de-aged) Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell or Matt Damon, all of whom could pull off a disgraced cop going to desperate lengths to restore his life. But with Worthington up on the ledge, all feeling of tension is just sucked out of the central storyline. He's not even sweating!
Director Asger Leth actually does a lot better when he's focusing on anything other than the titular man on a ledge -- the infiltration into the vault is a genuinely tense sequence, with some clever twists along the way. However, I found myself a little baffled by the depiction of the people watching Cassidy. For some reason, the crowd of rubberneckers suddenly turns Cassidy into a hero for the common man... even though they don't really know much about what's going on. It feels awkward and is never really explained.
The rest of the actors are pretty decent -- Jamie Bell and Elizabeth Bell give excellent smaller performances, especially since Bell is playing a woman haunted by a failure to talk down a suicidal cop. Ed Harris is something of a cardboard villain though, and Kyra Sedgwick is utterly wasted as an annoying TV reporter who... reports.
The man on a ledge is the weakest point in "Man on a Ledge" -- which is a shame, because a strong, talented actor in that role could have made this a wonderfully memorable movie. As it is, it just reminds me of what happens when tortoises get stoned.