Sunday, 17 July 2011
The Ledge, written and directed by Matthew Chapman, begins with Gavin (Charlie Hunnam) standing on the titular ledge, biding his time until noon when he must decide whether or not to jump to his death. Trying to talk him out of jumping is a policeman (Terence Howard), who that morning was told that he is infertile and therefore the two children he has raised are most certainly not his. The story behind Gavin’s suicidal mission unfolds through flashbacks: Gavin falls for his neighbour’s wife, Shana (Liv Tyler), hires her to work for him, and starts an affair. Of course the husband, Joe (Patrick Wilson), doesn't take it too well when he finds out, forcing Gavin to choose whether or not to sacrifice his own life in order to save Shana’s. So far, so derivative.
The reason for a review of this film appearing on a humanist society blog, and what is supposed to elevate The Ledge above your bog-standard quasi-psychological thriller, is that Gavin is an Atheist (with a definite capital 'a') and Joe is a fundamentalist, fire and brimstone Christian. The film is set up to be an exploration of life, love and sacrifice in the context of religious belief, and is unique, as far as I am aware, in having a strident atheist take a central role.
The Ledge suffers a great deal from trying to shoe-horn in so many issues that none of them can be given the thought and nuanced approach that they deserve. It doesn’t so much explore issues of belief so much as present reasons why religion is bad. Neither the theist nor the atheist will learn anything from this superficial presentation of ideas. A typical shouty exchange between the god-fearing and the heathen goes something like: "What about war and poverty?!"; "Well, what do you tell a dying child who hopes to see his parents again?!".
A checklist of controversies is ticked off with little thought to how their inclusion might add to anything of real value to the film. Gavin's flatmate is perfect example: does a character who has all of five minutes of screen time have to be gay, HIV-positive, searching for an accepting faith and wanting to get married? There’s a lack of subtlety that pervades the entire film, with a sledgehammer approach also noticeable in the direction. The cool, shaggy-haired atheist's apartment is always presented as bright and breezy; the clean-cut, uptight Christian on the other hand lives in an angular, claustrophobic and invariably dark apartment, as if his faith in god also required him to keep his blinds closed all the time.
I was surprised by the strength of the cast given the potential controversial central issues, but the two biggest names really fail to deliver. Terence Howard's performance as the policeman is reflective of the film as a whole – overwrought and unconvincing. That the cop would pop out to answer phone calls to discuss his wife's infidelities whilst he is trying to talk someone down from the top of a building is also incredulous. His entire side-story adds nothing to the film, save for an opportunity to ram home a message about forgiveness at the end. Liv Tyler's lip quivered a lot and Charlie Hunnam is forgettable. The film's saving grace (for want of a better phrase) is Patrick Wilson, who is impressive as the simmering pot that eventually boils over.
The film’s reception has been mixed to say the least. Whilst nothing that generates debate and reflection can ever be a wholly bad thing, most people I watched the film with at the National Federation for Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies’ AGM were more interested in discussing the inexplicable appearance of a ball gag rather than any of the issues the film tries to address, which I think says a lot about how much The Ledge missed its mark.
Ultimately, the film is unlikely to cause the stir that its makers might have hoped for, or set the box office alight. The Ledge certainly doesn't live up to its potential, but it's still worth a watch and deserves some credit for bringing atheism to the fore.