WARNING: This review comes with strong religious discussion. If you don’t care for that sort of thing you were warned.
I really don’t want to take the piss out of this movie because I really believe in what the director wants. However I do have to be honest and if there is any consolation is that I am giving criticism and not straight up hating on this movie. Okay, time for my usual pre-review tangent.
I remember Kevin Smith talking about how he came to make Chasing Amy or more specifically about making a movie for homosexuals. Smith has a brother who is gay and who told him how crappy it was that 99% of all movies had hetero romantic relationships and Smith remarked on how lousy that was for him. Well in the same way, you really don’t know how crappy it is to be an atheist and have the majority of movies that in some way cater to the religious crowd. It is not that religious people have movies. I understand that theists are the majority so I don’t have a problem with people catering to that market. I have a problem that Hollywood has a problem with catering with the atheist demographic. Why is it the only atheist protagonist I can think of on TV is House? Why is it the only characters in films that are atheists (at least that I can think of) are Woody Allen characters? I think what bugs me the most is not just the fact Hollywood doesn’t cater to our demographic, but that there is such a negative stereotype associated with us. Movie atheists are usually bitter and angry. They don’t believe in God, not because they just don’t believe, but because they are angry with God. It’s just so condescending. Awwww, these atheists don’t believe because they lost a family member or because God didn’t answer a prayer. Give me a freaking break. I could go on for much longer but I will spare you of this for the sake of this movie review.
I guess I should temporarily stop this tangent to explain what I mean by making atheist friendly characters. I know it is hard to make characters that are based on a non-belief. It is like making a protagonist who is a non-stamp colector. I guess what I mean is someone who is a skeptical thinker and skepticism does naturally extend to people’s theological beliefs too.
Anyway, back to my tangent. So I really like where Chapman is coming from when he makes a movie for atheists. Much like how Sweet Sweetback opened the door for black filmmakers, I would love to see a film come out that opens the door to a whole new market. Science and reason FTW! So with all that out of the way, let’s get to The Ledge.
The Ledge is about Gavin (Charlie Hunnan) who one day gets up on the ledge of an office building. Det. Hollis (Terrence Howard) is sent to talk him down. Gavin tells Hollis that he is forced to stand out on that ledge for two hours then he has to kill himself. This leads the movie to a series of flashbacks about how he got there. The flashbacks explain how Gavin fell in love with Shana (Liv Tyler) despite being married to her fundamentalist Christian husband Joe (Patrick Wilson). Joe naturally hates Gavin who is an outspoken atheist.
Director Chapman explained in an interview that he wanted this film to be the Brokeback Mountain for atheists. While I can understand the comparison in how Brokeback opened the door for homosexual romances, it also shows how Ledge fails in actual execution (unlike Brokeback). In Brokeback Mountain did you ever see the characters stop and have an extended discussion about whether gay marriage should be legal or not? Did you ever see them have any real discussion about homosexuality? No. The movie did not need to go into some kind of logical debate because it was able to strike the audience on a core emotional level. We knew the characters love each other but that society was being cruel/potentially violent because of their prejudices. While it may not be intellectually stimulating it worked emotionally and for the purposes of showing a great movie.
So believe me when I say it really interrupts the flow of the movie when every so often, the characters get together to have a long disussion about belief in God. It grinds the story to a halt and is not as intellectually stimulating as reading a book or even seeing a theological debate on YouTube. I mean, there is a lot of emotional things you can highlight about being an atheist. How about the fact I have had relationships end on a dime simply because they learned I was an atheist. Not to mention all the marriages that end because over problems like that. How about discrimination? Atheists are currently the most hated minority in America. How about people like Christian scientists who don’t give health care to their kids who eventually die because it violates their faith? Those are just a few examples which I think are more effective than what was in The Ledge.
There are things I like about the film. For one the performances are enjoyable. Terrence Howard only has a small role but as usual he makes the character very endearing. Patrick Wilson also does a good job with the extremely fundie Christian. I’m sure there are those that would say his character is too much. I will simply say I have a friend from high school whom I have debates with who sounds just like him. He thoroughly believes I cannot be good because I’m atheist and that it is perfectly moral that I am going to hell forever. But I’m not going to name names nor is this movie about him. This character is not representative of all Christians but is simply a character representing one belief structure.
The Ledge isn’t a bad film. It is horribly horribly mediocre. As I mentioned before the acting is good, the story is servicable, and the movie is even handed with the characters. For example the atheist in the movie has his problems, and other characters in the movie who are religious are not bad people. The debate is what matters and not necessarily the people that represent them. With that being said though, there just isn’t that much enjoyment to be had with this film. The debates grind the pacing of the movie to a halt and the story doesn’t have as much resonance as you would like. Overall it feels bland. It is a movie that to which there is not much for either theist or atheist. I appreciate the effort and I wish there are more movies (I paid my $15 dollars for this DVD anyway), but I found this was a failed experiment.