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Sundance 2011 Review: THE LEDGE

 

"Atop a high-rise building, Gavin, a young hotel manager, is about to end his life. Hollis, a detective whose own world has just been turned upside down, is dispatched to the scene. As Hollis tries to persuade Gavin not to jump, each man begins to open up about his past, and we discover that neither of them is convinced that his life is worth living."

The Ledge was my most anticipated film of the entire festival. I've heard a lot of negative buzz around this movie already (with some claiming its the worst Sundance movie they've seen in years), but I can't see how this is possible. For me, the movie mostly worked as a study of actions and consequences and a warning about the perils of passion.

Written and directed by Matthew Chapman, The Ledge doesn't actually spend a lot of time in its titular location. The segments of the film that take place there are used as a framing device in the story; through extended flashbacks, we learn why Gavin (Charlie Hunnam) made his way up there and why Hollis (Terrence Howard) is having an exceptionally bad day. Liv Tyler and Patrick Wilson are fantastic as Shauna and Joe, a religious couple that moves in down the hall from Gavin. Shauna becomes the object of his affection, and the events that ensue are directly responsible for Gavin's position perched on the top of the building.

I found the pacing to be a bit off, considering what I thought would be the most interesting part of the film - the part on the actual ledge - barely had any screen time compared to the multiple flashbacks. That doesn't mean the movie isn't good, though - in fact, I liked it quite a bit. It's smartly written and deals with much larger issues than the standard thrillers we get in theaters these days. Religion plays a huge part in the movie (also surprising), and philosophical arguments between characters with different belief systems sometimes seem like Chapman working out his own issues than organic things these characters would say. Other than that, I really don't have much to complain about with this movie.

Great performances seem to be a common thread at Sundance (this is my first time at the festival, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect). The Ledge is no exception - everyone did a wonderful job breathing life into these characters. Patrick Wilson has a lock on the "suburban guy with a secret" archetype, and he really got a chance to shine here. Liv Tyler was surprisingly good, considering I don't think I've seen her in anything since The Incredible Hulk back in 2008, and she did what she could with a pretty standard "former hooker with a heart of gold" role. Hunnam (whom you may recognize from the terrific Green Street Hooligans or, more likely, "Sons of Anarchy") was OK as leading man Gavin, but makes the character a bit hard to root for because he's almost annoyingly as extreme in NOT believing in God as Joe is trying to convince him otherwise. It also helps that he resembles a young Heath Ledger (get it? The LEDGE? Never mind), though he can't quite achieve the acting prowess even of Ledger's younger days. Terrence Howard gave a conventional Terrence Howard performance, which is to say it was good but not life-changing. It was a small role for him (he can clearly choose better material, but was passionate about this project), but Chapman gave his character some serious issues to sort through, distracting as they may be to his job description of a police detective trying to save a man's life.

If the movie finds distribution, I'd recommend checking it out. The Ledge is a compelling movie that brings up some interesting issues, and, if it asks any question to the audience at all, it asks us to examine within ourselves what we're willing to do for our own beliefs. Solid performances, good story - movies like this are the reason I came to Sundance.

(Synopsis provided by the Sundance Film Festival website)

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