Man on a Ledge
When I saw the trailer, which shows Sam Worthington standing on the ledge outside his hotel room far above a New York City street while Elizabeth Banks is trying to talk him back into the room, this was not a film I wanted to see.
But this isn’t about some sicky threatening to commit suicide. There’s method in Worthington’s madness and it’s really a caper and revenge film with Worthington as a cop who escaped from jail after being tried and imprisoned for stealing a diamond from evil mogul Ed Harris.
Director Asger Leth gets terrific performances from Worthington, Banks, Harris, Jamie Bell as Worthington’s brother, and Genesis Rodriguez as Bell’s girlfriend. Kyra Sedgwick gives an entertaining performance as a fame-seeking TV reporter, and Edward Burns is effective as a cop who is replaced by Banks as the primary negotiator to get Worthington off the ledge. Anthony Mackie does a good job as Worthington’s former partner on the force who seems sympathetic to Sam’s plight.
The script by Pablo F. Fenjves has been bouncing around for quite awhile. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura wanted to option it while he was president of Warner Bros. It passed through MGM and Paramount Vantage before di Bonventura finally sold Summit Entertainment on the project.
Apparently Worthington did actually get out on the ledge of the 21st floor of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York and shot some scenes out there, 200 feet above 45th Street, even though most of the scenes were shot in the studio when he was only eight feet off the ground. Worthington had a fear of heights, so the first time he crawled out on the ledge was a shot that was printed. Producer Mark Vahradian said, “…that was … valuable actually shooting there. You could see that he knew he was up 200 feet in the air, and we especially wanted to get that on the first moments that he stepped out there, ‘cause he’d never done it before and you get that look in his eyes. And that for us was priceless.”
Frankly, I find it a little hard to believe that a studio would risk a big star on what appears to be an 24-inch ledge 200 feet above the ground without some sort of safety precautions. The famous film (Safety Last!, 1923) of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock 10 stories above Hollywood Boulevard was shot from an angle that made it look as if he were dangling 100 feet above the street, but in reality a balcony had been built and he was only a few feet off the floor of the balcony. It’s the angle that makes it look dangerous.
In this film, however, the camera swings above Worthington and it looks like there’s nothing between him and certain death. However they did it, it’s very effective and makes yours heels tickle to watch it.
Steven Soderbergh ably directs mixed martial arts champion Gina Carano in this ingeniously convoluted action thriller — in which everyone is out to kill Gina — that keeps you on the edge of your seat even though you don’t have a clue about what’s going on until the end. Influenced by Soderbergh’s affection for one of his favorite films, James Bond’s From Russia with Love, it is helped by a terrific cast including Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, and Michael Douglas.
The interesting script was written by Lem Dobbs, who, although uncredited, rewrote the script for Romancing the Stone (1984), a film that was good enough to inspire a sequel, 1987’s Jewel of the Nile. Unfortunately, Dobbs apparently had nothing to do with the disappointing sequel. This is his first produced screenplay in ten years since The Score (2001).
Bravo to Soderbergh for casting the relatively inexperienced Carano to star in this movie instead of casting someone like Reese Witherspoon, who can act but who would have to be doubled for all the fighting and stunts. Carano, while attractive, is no Elizabeth Banks or Katherine Heigl when it comes to looks. But what she does is look like a real person. (Banks and Heigl are so beautiful it’s hard to believe that they exist in real life; could you meet someone who looks like them in a singles bar?)
So if one were watching Witherspoon or Banks or Heigl in this role, it would stretch credulity to the max. But when Carano starts her fighting and stunts, she looks like she could really do whatever it is her character is called upon to do, and that adds enormous verisimilitude to the story, which often strains credulity.
Basically, she’s hired by McGregor to go to Barcelona to do a job. Everything turns out badly and she’s left all alone to her own resources to survive, to figure out what happened and why, and to exact revenge.
Soderbergh claims he used no CGI or special effects in this film, and it looks like it. While some of the fights are a little too violent to believe that they could go on for the periods that they do, they are still relatively realistic. And Carano’s face isn’t hidden, a sure sign that a double has been used.
He also has her doing things that appear to be not altogether kosher, vis-à-vis her partners. But Soderbergh added these elements because he feels like one of the reasons Hitchcock’s films were so successful with audience was because “at their core they are all about guilt.”
It’s an action film with a female protagonist played by an actress with the cred that she could actually accomplish what she’s shown doing, and it’s a lot of fun. Sure, there are more plot holes than you can shake a stick at, but who cares? You know what you’re getting when you pay your money.