The Ledge: Sundance Review

Cook Allender
An artificial drama enlivened by solid acting but dragged down by contrived melodrama over a fundamentalist nut.

Charlie Hunnam and Terrence Howard put enough actors' oomph into their characters to make them authentic even though the film fails to achieve anything like the same level of authenticity.

PARK CITY -- A jumper and a cop occupy the ledge of a tall building for 100 minutes so writer-director Matthew Chapman can sort out issues concerning God, man and humanism in The Ledge.

The gimmick is an awkward one but at least it gives the film a ticking clock. Meanwhile Charlie Hunnam and Terrence Howard put enough actors' oomph into these ledge mates to make them authentic characters even though the film fails to achieve anything like the same level of authenticity.

The Sundance Dramatic Competition entry will have a tough time attracting adult moviegoers to specialty venues. A more likely home for The Ledge would be cable television and home entertainment, as the film never escapes its small-screen perspective.

Indeed except for a few cell phone calls and contemporary slang, the film feels like a product of a different era, when lower budget films or TV movies would tackle "challenging" themes within somewhat didactic story formats featuring a few single-minded characters. Here the locale is never mentioned -- end credits indicate it's Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- nor do the characters have much personality beyond that which is prescribed for a philosophical battle of wills.

As the movie begins, several people are clearly having bad days. Even as the jumper (Hunnam) edges hesitantly out on a ledge, the cop (Howard) is learning he may not be the father of his two kids. Duty calls but his mind is barely on the task at hand as he leans out a window over the ledge to inquire of the jumper, "You okay?"

Well, no, he's not but he can't jump until noon so he doesn't mind "going around in circles for a while," talking to the cop before the appointed hour. Thus, his story unfolds in flashbacks.

The jumper, a devout atheist, got himself into a love triangle with his apartment neighbors. His lover (Liv Tyler) is college student -- a bit of a stretch at 33 -- living with a fanatical-fundamentalist husband (Patrick Wilson), who saved her from drug addiction. Incorporated into the early flirtations and then clandestine rendezvous between the two are a series of arguments between the believer and non-believer over God's existence and the believer's intolerance for other beliefs and lifestyles.

So the jumper is out on the ledge not out of any desire to end his life but because of a kind of theological double dare, which is matter of life and death not just for the jumper.

The characters, unfortunately, exist merely for the sake of these arguments, and this includes the jumper's gay roommate (Christopher Gorham), whose orientation the fundamentalist sees as an "abomination." Even so, you might get engrossed in these arguments and characters if the debate weren't so one-sided.

British-born writer-director Chapman, who has also penned books on the battle between faith and reason, makes it all too clear which side he is on. All well and good if he allows the religious viewpoint to make its case. But Wilson's character is so plainly unhinged and his view so extreme within Christianity that the debate is meaningless. It's like allowing the Tucson shooter to weigh in on gun control.

The actors all have moments. Hunnam and Howard quickly establish an easy rapport on that ledge while Hunnam and Tyler are completely believable as two people hugely attracted to each other when they shouldn't be. Even Gorham is interesting as a gay man less riled by his neighbor's homophobia than his straight roommate.

What never sparks to life, to the film's detriment if you're to take any of this seriously, is the relationship between Hunnam and Wilson's characters. They rant at each other in pre-digested slogans and take easy potshots, but never engage one another in either an intellectual or affecting way.

Despite the location shooting, the film has a back lot feel with only a handful of very basic sets and no sense of any life at the periphery of this narrowly focused drama.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, U.S. Dramatic Competition
Foresight Unlimited presents a Mark Damon/Michael Mailer production a VIP Medienfonds 4 production in association with Rising Star
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Terrence Howard, Christopher Gorham
Director/screenwriter: Matthew Chapman
Producers: Mark Damon, Michael Mailer
Executive producers: Moshe Diamont, Greg Walker, Tamara Stuparich De La Barra, Christina Arnold-Beautel
Director of photography: Bobby Bukowski
Production designer: James A. Gelarden
Music: Nathan Barr
Costume designer: Jullian Kreiner
Editor: Anne McCabe, Jerry Greenberg
Sales: Preferred Content
No rating, 101 minutes