Thursday, September 23, 2010

Man On A Ledge

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A suicide jumper is secretly orchestrating a jewel heist in order to clear himself of a crime he didn’t commit.
About: It should be noted that this isn’t the draft that got the movie moving. Hot scribes Erich and Jon Hoeber, who wrote the upcoming Geek-tasmogoric “Red,” starring Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman, have done a rewrite, and that rewrite is what secured Sam Worthington, Amy Adams, Jamie Bell, and Elizabeth Banks. Pablo Fenjves, the original writer, has just taken a huge step forward in his career. Up until this point, he’s written movies only for TV. Chris Gorak, who did revisions, is still listed as director on one of my favorite scripts, the crab-fisherman thriller, “Dead Loss.”
Writer: Pablo Fenjves (revisions by Chris Gorak)
Details: 115 pages – May 16, 2009 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Is there such thing as the purity of the viewing experience anymore? I ask this because nobody in this day and age goes into a movie without already knowing what’s going to happen. At the very least, they know the hook, and the hook occurs one-fourth of the way into the movie, which means the first 30 minutes might as well have been watched at home. In a sense, marketing has become the first 30 minutes of every film, in many cases extending to the first 60 minutes, and even 90. That’s why I love reading scripts. It’s the last form of entertainment where I can have no idea what’s going to happen next. But I’ve managed to destroy this purity, as my reading options are many and my time is little, requiring me to know as much as possible about each script ahead of time so I can pick something I’ll have a reasonably good chance of liking. What I find fascinating, however, is how different a script reads when you truly know nothing about it, not even a logline, because the script doesn’t have the advantage of knowing that you know what it’s about. If Man On A Ledge is any indication, first acts become way more boring, because writers have come to depend on the the drama in the act depending on your anticipation of the story’s hook, and I didn’t know the hook to Man on A Ledge. So for a good 40 pages I was going, “What the hell is this movie about?”

What is this movie about? Well, 30 year old Nick Cassidy is a broken down man who’s serving time for something we’ll find out later he didn't do. Luckily Nick’s father dies because prison law states that a man is allowed to attend his father’s funeral. So Nick goes to the funeral where he runs into his younger brother, Joey. The two clearly don’t get along, and after some pushing and shoving, things escalate into a full blown smackdown. Now if I were working this job and I saw a prisoner get into a fight with his brother, I’d probably check the prisoner afterwards. But these guards don’t subscribe to that theory and of course pay the price for it. The fight was a ruse, Joey slipped Nick a knife, Nick slips out of his cuffs and drives away to freedom.

A few weeks (months?) later, Nick walks out on a ledge 21 stories above Manhattan and threatens to jump. For reasons that remain unclear Nick has a very specific jumper psychologist he wants handling his attempted suicide - Lydia Anderson. Lydia is famous for NOT being able to talk down some kid on the Brooklyn Bridge a few weeks ago. Her failure was caught on Youtube and so she’s become a bit of an internet anti-celebrity .

While Nick’s on the ledge, Joey (his brother) and his girlfriend break into a jeweler’s shop. Eventually we learn that that shop is in the building across the street, and that Nick is secretly communicating with Joey. Ahh, this is all a setup! But a setup for what? Well, Nick used to be a policeman, and was tasked with escorting a man with a very expensive diamond from one place to another. The diamond later went missing, and the man, billionaire David Englander, blamed Nick for stealing it, so Nick was sent to jail for 30 years!

Nick is staging this faux-suicide so his brother can nab the diamond Nick supposedly stole and show it to the millions of cameras and policeman who are standing by, thus clearing his name in the court of public opinion, and we assume, the real court as well.

Once all the gears of this giant piece of machinery start grinding, the story comes alive. However I assume I’m not the only one who thinks there are too many gears grinding and that too many of these gears are grinding unnecessarily. For example, it’s entertaining that Joey’s stealing the diamond at the exact same time Nick’s pretending to be suicidal, but is it realistic? Wouldn’t it make way more sense to get the diamond on a Sunday night when no one's around? I mean I suppose doing it right now "proves" that they weren't holding the diamond all along, but who's to say they weren't holding it all along? Who's to say Joey didn't just "pretend" to break in and steal it right now? I don't know. All the theatrics seemed more in tune with making an exciting movie that they did real-world logic.

Another thing that bothered me was the plethora of uninspired and/or lazy choices in the script. We’ve seen the fake fight stuff in order to pass weapons off in plenty of prison movies before. We have mirrors placed in rooms to trick security cameras and characters looping those images so they can walk around freely. We've, of course, seen that dozens of times before. We even have a car chase where one car is trying to ditch another…. by beating a train across the tracks!!! With a little more effort, each one of these moments could’ve been infinitely more inventive, but for some reason only the most obvious option was used.

Man On A Ledge hits a sweet spot around page 60 where we’re jumping back and forth between the ledge and the jewelry store. Lydia is starting to suspect something with Nick and cops are on the heels of Joey and his girlfriend and it feels like it’s all going to go to hell in one disastrous yet delicious finale. At this moment, the story feels most like the film it’s obviously inspired by, Dog Day Afternoon. But that glow dims quickly and there isn’t much left to grab onto.

I’d be interested to see what the brothers Hoeber changed to make this so appealing to everyone involved. In this draft, it’s a bunch of ideas stuffed together searching for the sharp complex thriller it wants to be.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: The outrunning the train scene really bothered me. Look, everything’s been done before. I know that. It’s impossible to be 100% original. But when you come across conventions, at least try to put a new spin on them, even if it’s a minor one. Let me go on record as saying Date Night is one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year. But in it, there’s a big car chase sequence. How many car chases have we seen? 100,000? 200,000? It would be really easy then to throw together yet another forgettable chase, right? Well instead, the writers have two cars locked onto each others’ front bumpers, so the drivers in each car are facing each other, with our heroes having to escape a third car. Now the cars have to cooperate, in a sense, in order to escape that third car. That’s what I mean by giving a convention a new spin. If Date Night, of all movies, can come up with something new in a 100 year old medium, so can you.

Why Worthington attached himself: This role is pretty complex. Worthington gets to play a suicidal man. A deep and emotional challenge for any actor. But in actuality he’s playing a man who’s pretending to be suicidal, which actually makes it even more challenging. He also spends the majority of the movie in one spot (on a ledge), so everything is a series of close-ups for the actor to do what actors like to do best: ACT! On top of all this, he’s secretly orchestrating a plan to prove his innocence. So it’s a part that obviously has a lot going on and obviously allows an actor to stretch his muscles. Not surprised at all that Worthington chose to do the movie.