Earlier this year I absolutely fell in love with HBO’s made-for-TV movie The Sunset Limited and so when I heard of a film purporting a similar premise – a disillusioned, intellectual white man (Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunham) attempts suicide only to be stopped by a flawed, religious African-American (Terence Howard) with whom he discusses life, the universe and everything – I jumped at the opportunity, never expecting it to match the former’s quality but hoping that it would be enjoyable enough in its own right.
I was surprised then when barely five minutes into the movie that premise is thrown aside. No longer am I watching a philosophical dialogue but an edge-of-your seat thriller in the vein of Phone Booth, because it turns out that the man is only on the titular ledge because a mysterious and malevolent force has made threats against someone he loves, threats they will make a reality lest he not stay up there for an hour and lest he not then jump. Well, it’s not what I ordered but it looks tasty none-the-less so I’m in: I wonder if its a terrorism thing, if luring the cops and crowds is all a part of it, if … but the plot twists again and apparently we are now jumping back a few months to hear the story of how the man met his soul-mate, so … I guess that its a romance now?
I have nothing against ambition in movies – in fact I actively support it – nor do I have any intrinsic issue with genre-swapping or subverting my expectations, these are all good things in theory but here? Here they are just kind of a mess. There are a lot of good ideas underlying this film’s story (Don’t worry, I havn’t ruined the plot for you, that is literally only the opening section) and this is its major fault; there is simply no possible way for any of them to shine bright enough to burn an imprint, its all quick exposures and done. Though they do get to the philosophical debates they are overly abridged so all that is left standing are the shallow cliches. There is some action in the form of gun-play and hostage-taking but we are so constantly lost in the narrative that none of it can evoke any tension. Then we have the character work, which is given the longest shrift of the storyline and at times shines accordingly but also occasionally falls into Mater territory.
Patrick Wilson and Liv Tyler play a hard-line Christian couple who move into the man’s neighborhood and it is their relationship that the flashback section of the film centers on. Unfortunately though the film doesn’t quite know how to handle their religiosity; Wilson’s zealot will some times be enforcing dogmatic law, reducing his wife to servitude, but at others he is shown holding the hands of dying orphan boys in what I presume is some heavy-handed attempt at remaining unbiased. Wilson really works the role, trying to find both sides but the script bashes him so heavily, and then attempts to hid that fact so shamefully, that watching him is just made awkward.
Perhaps then it is for the best that the film moves so quickly, because were it to focus solely on any one of these points it likely couldn’t produce anything better, in which case it would just be made more boring. So if you desperately want to see a movie about a man on a ledge, don’t see this one; but if you desperately need to see three movies in the time it usually takes one then this may be a go for you, also if you are unaware of the concept of Christianity this will catch you right up. Other than that though I’d wait until I’ve seen near everything else worth watching in the world.