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Sex, Love, Revenge ... and Atheism? Finally, a Big New Film That Shows Non-Belief in a Positive Light

"The Ledge" is smart, riveting, complex, emotionally engaging, visually gorgeous... and best of all, almost entirely unpredictable.

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Gavin is the central character here. And in the pantheon of movie characters, he is both one of the more distinctive and one of the more instantly recognizable that I've seen in a while. As his story unfolded, I kept wondering, "Where is he going with this? What makes him tick? What on earth is he going to do next?" And at the same time, I kept thinking, "Oh, my lack of God -- I know this guy." Passionate, funny, combative, compassionate, way too quick with a snarky barb, equally quick to apologize and admit that he's an asshole, tender-hearted, quick-witted, competitive, impulsive, hard-assed, firmly realistic, fervently idealistic... I know this guy. I see dozens of people like him on atheist forums every day. Heck -- I'm more than a little like him myself. It's something I've said many times: To make characters that an audience can identify with, you don't make them generic and lowest-common-denominator. You make them personal. You make them quirky, complex, mixed-up, unique. You make them human. Humans are what other humans identify with... and writer/ director Chapman has done that in trumps with Gavin.

And he's done it with the rest of the characters in "The Ledge" as well. This is a story of heroism and villainy... but it isn't a story of cartoon heroes and villains. The villain of the piece, Joe, is almost as complex and nuanced as Gavin. The movie is clearly taking Gavin's side, but it goes out of its way to show where Joe's religious extremism comes from and why he clings to it so strongly, and whenever he came on screen, I found myself feeling an uneasy blend of compassion and revulsion. The woman caught in the middle, Shana, has a quiet, compelling strength peering out from her apparent meekness. I sometimes found her to be frustratingly passive -- it would have been nice if the main female character actually made some stuff happen and hadn't primarily been the prize in the game played between two men -- but her few moments of real choice have a thoughtful, carefully-considered gravitas, offering a dramatic contrast to Gavin's impulsive, often blundering willfulness. Hollis, the detective trying to talk Gavin down from the ledge, is a good man having a very, very bad day. The crisis with Gavin coincides with one of the worst personal crises of his own life, and he juggles both with a mix of calm and despair, morality and rage, compassion and bewilderment, a strong man being shaken to his core. In many ways, he's the foundation the film is built on, and I don't think it's an accident that the movie opens and closes on him and his story.

And the scenes between Gavin and his best friend/ roommate, Chris (Christopher Gorham), are among the most authentic of the entire movie. The way the two friends keep touching on the subject of religion, and then stepping back from it because they know they can't talk about it without it causing a rift... it felt like a hand cupping my heart and then twisting, just a little. I know that. I've lived that. It's one of the saddest, hardest things about my friendships with believers: it's this hugely important issue, for me and for them, and there's no way to talk about it seriously without it starting a fight. And so it is with Gavin and Chris. They show their love for each other, not by pushing forward on an intensely personal matter, but by carefully stepping around it. It made me want to cry... more than any of the characters' tragic histories or romantic dramas. (And yes -- the gay best friend/ roommate gets to have a love life, and even a sex life. Praise Jebus.)

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