Fundamentalist Christianity has become such an integral part of American life that indie filmmakers are beginning to examine it in new and intriguing ways. Few seemed to notice last fall when Stone, the Robert De Niro/Edward Norton prison drama, utilized genre trappings to mount a sincere and intricate commentary on religious emotion. Matthew Chapman's The Ledge takes a similar approach via an even more identifiable commercial format. A neo noir with a terrific, high concept set-up and a flabby execution, The Ledge is noteworthy in that the doomed love triangle at its center also attempts to be a tug of war over faith and devotion of both the secular and spiritual kinds. The market for genre pictures with religious subtext being what it is, there isn't much hope for this one in movie houses (Stone died a death too, and had bigger stars). But The Ledge is at least an attempt at something more intriguing than meets the eye.
Terrence Howard is a cop who specializes in talking potential suicides down before they jump. The worst day of his life begins when he discovers he's infertile—a shattering revelation, given he has two children he adores who were clearly fathered by someone else. He's called into action when an atheist hotel manager (Charlie Hunnam) is found standing on the ledge of an industrial building. The cop's job is to talk the jumper into coming inside, but he finds himself listening instead. The jumper has quite a story to tell, about the "born again" couple who lives down the hall, the blackmailer forcing him to kill himself at noon, and what it's like to fall in love with another man's wife...
The Ledge, which debuted at Sundance 2011, is a true independent production, and the seams show. Because the film's structure is actually a highly commercial one, it's paradoxically harder to forgive the flat lighting, slow editing and occasional passage of wincingly awkward dialogue than it would be if this were a lo-fi artfilm made by Greg Araki or Miranda July.
Three of the four leads are extremely well cast. Howard is in fine form as the cop under pressure, and Liv Tyler (though too old to be playing an aspiring college student) effectively inhabits the woman at the center of the love triangle with a winning combination of sensuality and hurt. As the betrayed Fundamentalist husband, Patrick Wilson is outstanding, taking a character that would have been a frothing cartoon in the wrong hands and making him relatively life size.
Hunnam is pretty much a disaster though—a greasy, self-involved narcissist with marbles in his mouth, probably due to the British accent lurking somewhere beneath his tongue, always threatening to break free. The flirtation scenes between Hunnam and Tyler sound like they were written by a caveman. Sample pick-up line from Hunnam after Tyler opens a beer bottle with her teeth: "Note to self: decline blow job if offered." Makes the heart melt, doesn't it?
The blending of genre conceits with a genuine concern over religious issues is patchily done, and the character math makes the Fundamentalist husband into an obstacle and then the nutty villain; this is hardly a dimensional depiction of people of faith. But before The Ledge descends into third act melodrama, there are enough intriguing moments to make the viewer sense the better film this one wanted to be. A real shame that one didn't make it to the screen.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Terrence Howard, Christopher Gorham
Director/Screenwriter: Matthew Chapman
Producers: Mark Damon, Michael Mailer
Running time: 101min
Release date: July 8 NY