Message to Man on Ledge: Jump!

Sam Worthington is everywhere. If he’s not soaring through jungle treetops in Avatar, he’s clashing with the Titans. And now here he is out on a ledge. It used to be that the most compelling male actors in the movies were the dangerous ones, the ones you were a little afraid might hurt you if you ran into them on the street. The young DeNiro, the young Pacino, the young—and the old, for that matter—Joan Rivers. Look at them sideways and they’d probably cut you. Who among the young actors is like that? Maybe Edward Norton, though he’s not so young anymore. And certainly Ryan Gosling. But the primary quality of the modern male actor seems to be not dangerous but wounded. And among these actors, Sam Worthington is a prime example. If you find him at your door, it probably won’t be because he wants to rob you; it will be because he wants to offer to cut your lawn. This makes him the right actor for movies like Avatar and Man on a Ledge, whose characters are trying to come to terms with painful histories at the same time that they lead alien armies and compromise the entire New York City police department. But he makes for a ho-hum hero, I’m afraid.

Man on a Ledge is one of those movies where the character who seems really, really guilty at first turns out to be really, really innocent in the end. Oops. Was that a spoiler? Nope. You can see that much in the trailer. There isn’t, I’m afraid, a surprising move in the whole movie, except for the one that’s given away in the trailer. And shouldn’t there be? In a movie that’s plays out so completely by the numbers, shouldn’t the plot at least give us a few zigs and zags to make us think we’re seeing something new?

The most appealing part of the movie is wily old Ed Harris, who plays the conniving millionaire behind the plot against our hero. That rugged face, that half smile—the smile a snake would smile, if it could smile.

The problem with movies like this is that the stout-hearted hero is usually the least interesting character. He doesn’t get to have the quirky edges the minor characters get to have. Here, Jamie Bell, as the screwed-up younger brother, and Genesis Rodriguez, as the younger brother’s girlfriend, play bickering heist-meisters. Whenever they appear, your interest-level jumps. You’re not sure if they’ll succeed or fail, where you never for a moment doubt that Worthington will survive.

Which brings to mind the ending. I don’t want to give anything away here, but the conflict is wrapped up awfully quickly. When Worthington produces evidence of the bad guy’s duplicity, the hundreds of people around him in the street—cops and citizens alike—buy it, even though most of them can’t even see it. And almost immediately the cops let him go, even though, in the course of proving his innocence, he has committed several crimes, including assaulting various officers, theft, robbery, destruction of property, creating a public nuisance, and under-acting.

Note to security guys. You can build the most secure vault in the world—with tempered steel walls, with locks inside locks, with cameras, with motion and sound detectors, with laser nets, with voice- and facial-recognition software, and big dogs with really rough tongues, but . . . if you also include a human-sized air vent in the ceiling . . . well, do I really have to go on?


Author: Brent Spencer

I'm a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and screenplays. My most recent book, a memoir, is Rattlesnake Daddy: A Son's Search for His Father. I live on an acreage in eastern Nebraska and teach creative writing at Creighton University. You can find out more about me and at (Photo credit: Miriam Berkley)

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