Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Marie Antoinette & Ted Kennedy: Man On A Ledge

The tagline is, "You can only push an innocent man so far."
As we start out, we get some great views of New York City, reminding us of similar shots in this summer's upcoming The Avengers as aliens attack New York City; we're also reminded of what's missing from the shots, the World Trade Center, and how that was attacked, but we are also reminded of a much more recent attack in New York City, and if the similar shots of the Big Apple doesn't invoke the memory for us, the name of the company does: Lehman Brothers.
Asger Leth's Man On a Ledge strategically employs several well planted references to the financial crisis which started in New York City in 2008, but also reminds us of how similar acts of injustice have been committed in the past: the monarch diamond worth $40 million dollars reminds us of French  Queen Marie Antoinette; Chappaquiddick, where the diamond was supposedly stolen, reminds us of Ted Kennedy's leaving the scene of an "injury" without notifying authorities and then the millions which David Englander (Ed Harris) lost because of Lehmann Brothers dishonorable conduct in the market meltdown of 2008 is the motivation for setting up Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington). Also, constantly in the busy, dramatic background, is another character lurking larger than life: Teddy Roosevelt.
Nick Cassidy on the ledge of The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.
Man On A Ledge isn't an Occupy Wall Street film, but one can't ignore the serious attempt it makes to analyze the world-wide situation now and who is suffering for it. We have to start with the real point of the film, the ultimate aspect needing to be examined and the means by which Nick gets out of prison so he can escape: the death of his father. Frank Cassidy (Bill Saddler) is more than just Nick's biological father: he's symbolic of the founding fathers of this country and why they came to this country and why they established the government they did, to be a land of opportunity and equality, not a land for the opportunistic who would feed upon the other people. This is why Man On A Ledge chooses The Roosevelt Hotel as the site of Nick's "retrial," a retrial by the standards of Americans, not the corrupt buying justice for themselves.
Jamie Bell plays Nick's brother Joey Cassidy. Unlike Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Cassidy brothers are trying to prove innocence rather than make a theft for personal gain, like Ocean's Eleven.
 American President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt is most famous for busting up the corrupt "Boss Tweed Ring" by activating citizens votes against them and and for the "Square Deal" he felt all Americans to be entitled to:  "conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection. Thus, it aimed at helping middle class citizens and involved attacking plutocracy and bad trusts while at the same time protecting business from the most extreme demands of organized labor.”  Man On A Ledge aptly frames David Englander as the plutarch ruling over the police force which is the same situation Teddy Roosevelt was cleaning up before he became President.
Elizabeth Banks as Lydia Mercer; Nick specifically asked for her to be his "negotiator" because several months later, an ex-cop was going to jump off a bridge and she was trying to talk him out of it and she failed to save him. Nick wants her because she trusts her instincts but also because Mercer can show Merc(y). Just as Mercer wears layers of clothing, there are layers to her and her personality
Man On A Ledge is loosely based on 14 Hours of 1951 (Grace Kelly's first film and the film that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo). Those who have seen 14 Hours recognize some of the shots but what's so interesting about this connection is the differences between Nick Cassidy's character and Robert Cosick (Robert Basehart): Robert suffers from psychological problems widespread throughout American society in the 1950's and Cassidy, in many ways, reflects an injustice done to low-middle and even lower-upper income Americans: "How far would you go to take down the man who took everything from you?" If people didn't loose everything in 2008, they might have by now, or be on the verge of doing so.
Ed Harris as David Englander, who talks about how his father, an immigrant, was a jeweler and that's why he bought the Monarch diamond, in memory of his father. Some other commentators have noted how "alarmingly thin" Ed Harris appears in the film, but I believe that is intentional for David Englander: the "fat cats" on Wall Street aren't so fat anymore and these lean times have effected even them.
There is an even more interesting connection to to Marie Antoinette than just the diamond being named the Monarch to trigger our thought as to what monarch is most associated with a diamond; after the fraudulent purchase of the diamond necklace the queen supposedly bought, it was broken up into pieces and sold which is what Englander tells the courts he believes Cassidy did with his Monarch diamond. What the affair of the diamond necklace did in France with Marie Antoinette was to push the French population over the edge, being fed up with the luxury and wasteful spending of the monarchy until the peasantry finally started the French Revolution.
Is Man On A Ledge calling for a revolution?
Kyra Sedgwick as Suzie Morales. Note the red coat she's wearing? Since red is the color of the appetites, we know she's "hungry" for a story, which is pretty stereotypical of the people in the news industry, but what is interesting, she things she's getting all the news and she's several beats behind everyone else.
It depends upon what you consider "injustice" to be.
According to Nick, he was moonlighting as a body-guard (probably because he wasn't making enough as a cop) to David Englander and escorting him and the Monarch diamond to Chappaquiddick near Martha's Vineyard. In the legends of political history, the "Chappaquiddick incident," as it came to be known, involved a car wreck into a tidal channel and the drowning/suffocating of Mary Jo Kopechne caused a national scandal. Who was driving the car? Senator Ted Kennedy, who was only charged with leaving an accident after causing injury although Miss Kopechne survived in an air bubble in the car for at least two hours after the wreck which is why her autopsy revealed she suffocated rather than drowned. This is considered to be the reason Teddy Kennedy couldn't become like Teddy Roosevelt and run for president: since Kennedy couldn't take justice for himself, he couldn't implement it to others.
The bad partner: Mike Ackermannn who framed Nick. This is a good lesson for us all, when we choose to "look out for ourselves,"we end up only hanging ourselves as Mike does when it's discovered he was helping David Englander. In the beginning of the film, he comes to see Nick in jail and tells Nick that he's getting married and Nick responds, "Who's the lucky guy?" and Mike laughs, but this foreshadows that Nick unconsciously knows his former partner is now "wedded" to a new partner, David Engalnder. 
One last point before we close: Dante.
Englander has two cops in ski masks take out Nick Cassidy when Nick's supposedly stealing the diamond and one is Nick's former partner Mike Ackerman (Anthony Mackie) and the other is cop Dante Marcus (Titus Welliver, pictured below). In Dante's epic poem Inferno, in the inner ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, those who have committed violence against God are sentenced: the homosexuals for committing violence against nature and the usurers, those who make money. Usurers are unnaturally using money to make more money as homosexuals use a man's body in the sexual act as if the man were a woman. When, in jail, Nick teases Mike about getting married to another man, and that there is "no kissing," he's sublimely understanding how David Englander has used his former partner to commit injustice, but also the real nature of Englander's crime to make his money make him even more money, sealing the Monarch diamond to get a check for $40 million from Lloyd's of London.
Ackerman on the left and Dante Marcus on the right, seated.
The Monarch diamond, then, symbolizes America itself, that it's not the resources to be exploited, or the money to be made in this country that makes America valuable, rather, what makes America a priceless treasure is that we know, just as our immigrant ancestors knew, that we would be able to get a fair trail, regardless of how rich or how poor we are, and no one is above the law. These two inalienable rights and expectations is what makes each of us "monarchs" and holders of the world's most valuable gem, American citizenship. When someone doesn't get a fair trail, or someone who is above the law doesn't have to pay the consequences for their actions, that great treasure loses some of its worth each time, and it's not just America's credit rating that has been downgraded lately, but the value of citizenship itself because of those getting away with the crimes they have committed.
There is a great dichotomy the film sets up: jumping to one's death out of despair, which is what most of the people watching Nick on the ground think he will do, or making a leap of faith for the sake of life, and it's this leap of faith that Mick makes and that we, as Americans, must make for our country, especially at election time.
What we didn't all ready know about Lehmann Brothers, and what they did to the stock market in 2008, the film Margin Call taught us, using some of the same shots of New York City that Man On A Ledge uses, but Nick Cassidy shows us the longer lasting repercussions of what Lehmann did to this country: it doesn't matter what you do as long as you save your own skin (please see Deconstructing Volatile Risk: Margin Call for more). The consequences of that philosophy dominating the capital markets and the costs Americans have had to pay can be likened to Nick Cassidy. "You can only push an innocent man so far," and that implies the corrupt who are doing the pushing. The answer to "how far the innocent can be pushed" will be answered by a plethora of class-conflict films throughout this year, and we will not only find out what our options are in this election year, but why we are going to make the choices that we will. When we realize, at the very end, that the man who has been seemingly helping Nick out throughout the film is in fact his father, that he didn't die, it's the reassurance that the founding fathers haven't died, that they are helping us out today, too.