‘Life on the Line’ is a Low Voltage Drama

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Life on the Line

There’s a fascination with the people who do dangerous jobs, a fascination that extends to cinema. The most recent example is Deepwater Horizon, which focused on the men and women working on the doomed oil rig as it exploded and led to one of the worst ecological disasters known to man. The latest hazardous occupation to get the cinematic treatment are linemen, the workers who risk life and limb to install and repair the electrical lines that are elevated far about the ground with Life on the Line. Though noble in its intentions to shed light upon the dangerous occupation, this movie, which claims to be based on a true story, comes across as a misguided mixture of melodrama and disaster film that is never convincing as either. More often than not, Life on the Line is a comically inept piece of filmmaking that routinely fails in all that it attempts to achieve.

On his birthday in 1999, Beau (John Travolta) witnesses the death of his brother while working on downed powerlines during a powerful storm. En route to the hospital, Beau’s sister-in-law is also killed in a horrific car accident. In present day, Beau has been looking after his niece Bailey (Kate Bosworth), who after many years is deciding to finally attend college. The electrical company that Beau works for is about to undertake a massive new project to replace aging equipment and has hired many new workers. Among those new workers are Bailey’s on-again off-again boyfriend Duncan (Devon Sawa) and his new neighbor Eugene (Ryan Robbins), an Iraq War vet struggling with PTSD which is putting a strain on his marriage to Carline (Julie Benz). Beau is very cautious and professional in his work, and despises the cavalier attitude of Duncan as well as his romantic intentions for Bailey. Their mettle will be put to the test as a storm looms on the horizon that endangers not just the power grid but the lives of the linemen who work to preserve the grid’s integrity under duress.

Life on the Line has a lot of moving parts that never come together into anything meaningful. It’s often absurdly heavy-handed in its approach to the point of unintentional comedy, such as its use of ridiculous flashbacks or the audial montages that hint to Eugene’s PTSD. This even extends to the most minor of characters, like Duncan’s alcoholic mother who is dismayed that her son has taken a job as a lineman considering his father died working the very same job. Opening and closing with mockumentary segments that make the events of the film obvious from the get-go. If you’ve ever seen a movie before, you’ll know exactly where director David Hackl is taking things.

The dialogue in the script by Primo Brown, Peter I. Horton, Marvin Peart, and Dylan Scott is incredibly on the nose and lacking eloquence. You could spend your entire day watching football and not hear the word “lineman” as often as you do in the 90 minutes of Life on the Line. The scenarios of the film also push the boundaries of what could be constituted as “based on a true story,” as the film flies off the rails in its conclusion. Within the film’s final act, everything culminates around a massive storm, a rape, an accidental suicide, a train wreck, an accidental shooting, and a selfless act of sacrifice. It’s impossible to imagine that all these coincidental disasters happened within a matter of minutes of each other in a reality that wasn’t concocted by a quartet of screenwriters. Despite all of this lunacy that comprises the final act of Life on the Line, it’s still predictable and joyless.

Concluding with an homage to the real life workers that have died since the film began production as well as information about an organization for fallen linemen is a nice touch, but the preceding movie doesn’t live up to the intentions. Life on the Line is a comically bad movie that never works on any level it aims for. It’s a movie that never comes close to the balancing act it attempts as this is a low voltage drama where the facial hair prosthetics on John Travolta’s face are far more entertaining than anything else in the movie.

Life on the Line
  • Overall Score


A low voltage drama that is simultaneously implausible and predictable, Life on the Line dangles for 90 minutes of bad melodrama and disaster movie clichés.

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