MAN ON A LEDGE is a not unworthy entry in the suspense/thriller subgenre dealing with an innocent man trying to prove his innocence. The innocent man is cop framed for a diamond theft. The ruse is to play bait-and-switch with the authorities who put him in prison. The execution is neither as lean nor as crisp as it should be.
The innocent man is Nick (Sam Worthington), doing 25 years for stealing a $40 million diamond from New York City real estate mogul David Englander (Ed Harris), and the film begins with Nick walking into one of Englanders poshest hotels, taking a room with a view and ordering lobster and champagne for breakfast. After dining, he writes a terse but earnest note about innocence, and then, after taking a deep breath, steps out onto the ornamental ledge beneath his window. Flashbacks bring the audience up to date. The present brings the crowds yelling for Nick to jump, a clever plan to prove his innocence courtesy of accomplices across the street, and Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), the NYPD psychologist with a whole mess of baggage, including the lack of respect from her colleagues over a botched negotiation.
The script keeps many secrets, which allows the audience both the pleasure of surprise and the suspense of never being quite sure that what is happening is what Nick has planned. The weedy accomplice (Jamie Bell) and his brunette bombshell of a girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) provide the comic relief, not least because she looks like she could break him in half during a romantic clinch, as they banter their way through explosions, close calls, and the inevitable dangling precariously by a wire in order to subvert a security system. They are an unlikely but pleasant pairing, he with the look of barely having achieved adolescence, and she bursting forth from her pink bra and black tank top with a startling ebullience. The pairing of Worthington and Banks is almost as satisfying, and trickier, with Nick in a position of precarious weakness needing to sway Lydia to his side when the time comes to be honest with her about what is really going on. Banks and Worthington make that unlikely scenario work with a nice emotional immediacy about their respective situations. Or a variation on the Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, its a lock.
While Nick sways on the ledge, several subplots percolate above and below him, peopled with all the usual suspects. Harris is cold-eyed, vicious, and smugly self-satisfied. Edward Burns as the other cop in the room with Lydia is suitably crusty and world-weary. Anthony Mackie, as Nicks ex-partner, is suitably mysterious about what exactly is going on with his allegiances, and Kyra Sedgwick as the bottom-feeding, ratings-greedy, consonant-rolling Hispanic television reporter is suitably vacuous, amoral, and completely unoriginal.
The best part of MAN ON A LEDGE is the street person who whips up the crowd into a sympathetic mob by introducing the politics of the class struggle to them by identifying Nick with the little guy driven to extremes by the moneyed elite. Its the least important element at work here, but a nice one amid the familiar tropes of complicated heists and corruption both public and private. Things become a scooch to pat towards the end, and the energy level never quite gets the adrenaline pumping properly for a film so dependent on split-second timing and dire situations, but as escapist popcorn fare with pretty people and simple characters, its not at all bad.