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For most of us, all it takes is a flip of the switch and whatever it is we want to work just does. We are so used to it, we rarely ever think about what it takes to keep our lives running, mostly only when that power is out, giving much consideration to the people who keep the electricity flowing. We also hardly think it a dangerous job, which is mostly because not many people really understand the process. With Life On The Line, while we get a rare and heartfelt inside look at a job few people understand, it is nonetheless one that works far too hard in painting these hardworking people as noble heroes and ends up diminishing their contributions rather than elevating them.
It stars John Travolta as Beau Ginner, a goatee-wearing, no-nonsense Texas lineman and foreman who is anything if not a steely-eyed protector of the lines he maintains. A veteran, he has great respect for the power and as such, runs his team by the letter of the law, so to speak, following rules and procedures with exacting precision. Naturally, in comes newbie Duncan (Devon Sawa), an inexperienced but knowledgeable lineman on the team who takes risks and butts heads with Beau. That might not be too much of a problem, but Duncan is also dating Bailey (Kate Bosworth), who just happens to be Beau’s niece. Beau is as protective of her as he is his lines, having raised her after her parent’s died, her mother in a car accident and her father, you guessed it, working the lines in a terrible storm.
It is this familial tragedy that kicks off the movie and sets up the rest of the story, including the foreshadowing of another major storm, a massive piece of nasty from Mother Nature that has the linemen facing their greatest and most dangerous work.
Directed by David Hackl, Life On The Line is a bit of a misnomer in that in truth, there is very little here that details the actual life of the people on the lines, aside from a few obligatory images that work more to exhibit the inherent danger rather than routines. The film is produced by Chad Dubea, a former lineman and CEO of a service utility company. He also set up a charity called Fallen Linemen to support families of those effected by injured or lost workers so there is no denying the passion behind this project in trying to illuminate the job of these brave men and women.
The issue is to the lengths it goes to tell that story and the all too familiar way that it does. Taking a few specific pages from the playbook of big disaster movies of the late 90s, most egregiously Micheal Bay‘s Armageddon, Life On The Line is a melodramatic action movie that is factory-made for the genre. Men are in conflict with each other and the women they love, including a variety of messy subplots about cheating wives and a disappointed mother (Sharon Stone), angry that her son took up work on the line even after his own father died working to keep the power. You get the sense that all the characters in the story live in a tight bubble.
Then there is the storm, of which the film treats like an apocalyptic doomsday event throughout, with an actual countdown on screen warning us of its impending arrival. All this does is to allow all the conflicts of the story to build up so there will be obligatory moments when life or death forces people to get along and have contrived moments where they come together. The storm itself is little more than a lot of heavy rain with characters shouting and fails to really have any sense of the menace it is set up to have.
Life On The Line has a few shining moments, though all of them have nothing to do with the storm or personal conflicts and everything to do with exposing what it must be like to strap on the gear and take to these impressively powerful towers of electricity. For enthusiasts and the curious, here lies the merit in watching. For the rest, this will be another substandard action disaster movie with a few descent performances.
Director: David Hackl
Writers: Primo Brown, Peter I. Horton
Stars: John Travolta, Kate Bosworth, Devon Sawa, Sharon Stone
Genre: Action, Disaster