Title: The Ledge
Writer-director: Matthew Chapman
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Terrence Howard, Chris Gorham
A tapestral suspense drama about the intertwined romantic fates of a quartet of Baton Rouge residents – each wounded in their own way, and some more freshly than others — The Ledge exhibits a willingness and desire to let its characters bat back and forth opposing philosophies of life and faith more frequently found on display in literature or off-Broadway theater. An interesting character study only half-successfully masquerading as a kind of specifically plotted romantic thriller, writer-director Matthew Chapman’s movie resembles the smart and sensitive but still gangly teenager pushed out of the door, wearing clothes they really don’t want to wear, to the party they really don’t wish to attend.
The Ledge unfolds largely in flashback, with hotel manager Gavin Nichols (Charlie Hunnam) perched high atop a building, seemingly ready to plunge to his death. Detective Hollis Lucelli (Terrence Howard) is dispatched to try to talk him down, and Gavin feeds him a hell of a revelation — he has to stand there until noon, and then jump, or someone else will die. The bulk of the movie, then, is comprised of Gavin’s story to Hollis, though complicated by the fact that the latter has just found out that he is sterile, and therefore not the biological father of the two children he shares with his wife.
On the recommendation of an employee, Gavin hires Shana Harris (Liv Tyler, shifting her demure smile into overdrive), who as coincidence would have it has also just moved in down the hall from Gavin with her husband Joe (Patrick Wilson). A friendly get-together between the couple and Gavin and his gay roommate Chris (Chris Gorham) deteriorates when Joe’s religious fundamentalism is revealed. Slowly, Joe’s controlling and contrarian nature begins to chafe at Shana, and erode her gratefulness at saving her from a bad past. Gavin and Shana orbit around one another for a bit, but eventually succumb to physical temptation. This finally escalates into a battle of wills freighted with metaphorical import between believer and non-believer.
Writer-director Matthew Chapman’s ambition and intellectual leanings help drive and push The Ledge in interesting ways. The film’s dialogue is thoughtful throughout with respect to its character’s feelings, if sometimes a tad inorganic in its religious and philosophical debate. It’s rare, the movie that even tries to explore these different belief systems and the sorts of tensions they create, and The Ledge accomplishes this without shortchanging the honesty or emotional integrity of any of its characters. It’s also sincerely (if not primarily) romantic; Hunnam and Tyler have a nice chemistry, and the latter in particular captures how feminine vulnerability can sometimes slowly melt into attraction if met with the warmth of an honest and respectful embrace.
The film’s chief demerit is that the framing device of its conceit is beyond silly; it ignores the fact that the deadline imposed upon Gavin is inarguably better spent explaining his situational ultimatum rather than telling Hollis his story. The fact that the movie tries to winkingly acknowledge this doesn’t mean it successfully overcomes it. Also, entirely all of the thematic parallelism with Hollis feels like an overreach, and falls flat. The Ledge would be a leaner, more effective piece of entertainment — and no less intelligent — if it jettisoned its awkward cold opening, in which Hollis learns of his sterility, and instead just reoriented itself as mostly a flashback tale of infidelity gone awry, and its terrible consequences. Narrative strain is hardly the most egregious cinematic sin, however, especially in a world with so much cookie-cutter movie product.
Written by: Brent Simon