I was really hoping that Life On The Line could be that movie that catapults John Travolta back into the big time. Travolta is such an iconic and talented actor, but has a tendency to choose roles that doesn’t do any of that talent justice. Sadly, Life On the Line is not that return to form either. While the movie – which sets out to shine a light on the dangers of linesmen (people who work on electricity lines) – has its powerful moments, they end up getting wrapped in too many clichés to take seriously.
Life On the Line follows the story of several characters, who are all either linesmen or have a strong link with the profession. John Travolta plays Beau, head linesman at his company who has an adopted daughter Bailey (Kate Bosworth). Bailey has a love interest Duncan (Devon Sawa), who Beau doesn’t approve of (largely because they’re too similar in character), but they end up working together after he chooses to become a linesman. This forced Beau and Duncan to confront their issues with each other. The film also stars Gil Bellows, Julie Benz, Ryan Robbies, Ty Olsson and Sharon Stone, though their characters mainly serve as fleeting distractions in the greater scheme of the movie.
The movie sets the scene with quite a powerful opening that forms the tragic background for many of the characters in the movie. And while some of the tension of these opening scenes are lost through some poor camera choices, the impact remains quite strong. Once the film gets into its proper story however, things start to unravel a little.
The biggest fault lies in the largely clichéd characters. In building a fictional story around some true events, screenwriters Primo Brown, Marvin Peart and Peter Horton have relied too much on stereotypes to build their characters. If the short description of the movie above sounded familiar to you, it’s because it is. Alongside all these clichéd characters, are corporations which seem negligent, people with drinking problems and a antagonist of sorts who seems to cause trouble for no reason explained in the movie whatsoever. But it’s all things we’ve seen before and when you watch it you you know exactly what you’re going to get.
The script also makes occasional uses of flashbacks when something happens to try and help the viewer understand the event or what the person is feeling. And while the intent is clear, the timing and editing of these is sometimes poor. The flashbacks also hinder the flow, stopping you from being drawn deeper into the movie. When the script is trying to just explain everything to you without allowing you to figure it out for yourself, it robs it of depth and prevents the movie from taking the intelligent route. The cuts and jumps to the flashback are also a little haphazard and quick.
And it’s not just these sequences, but a few in the movie where the editing puts the tension in the wrong places. During some of the climatic moments the actions drag out, but then in some of the more other moments, the editing is quick, like an action sequence. If they could swap these around, the movie might have a more powerful impact on its audience. Keeping with that inconsistency is the score, which has some powerful emotive string moments, interspersed with country sections. This further breaks tension or emotion that could’ve been carried through the film. Despite this, the film is not without some pretty powerful moments, which is a pity as it shows that when everything came together, director David Hackl’s vision worked really well. A little consistency would’ve gone a long way with this particular film.
Overall though, the purpose of the story is to introduce the audience to the dangers of the job and at least it does that well. The acting in the film is also passable, convincing without being too memorable. The actors do play things a little too cliché, but given the nature of the script and dialogue, you kind of feel they didn’t have a choice. Travolta in particular uses his talents and personality to drive many moments in the film, but also falls victim to perceived overacting in his delivery.
As a homage to fallen linesmen, the filmmakers would’ve done better to stick to a completely true story rather than patch in fictional characters to try and form more narrative. It’s an approach which can work, but not when the characters come across as clichéd and poorly developed as this. In the end, you could argue that the filmmakers have done their job, by bringing attention to a profession that many take for granted. As a piece of storytelling though, it falls a bit short. You will have your moments in the film where you will think, ‘That’s cool’ or be moved by the events on the screen, but once the film is finished you’ll likely spend time rather thinking about all those things that weren’t right with the movie instead.
Life on The Line is out now on DVD