Life on the Line is loosely based on true events. Beau Ginner (John Travolta) heads up a team of Texas linemen, the people tasked with the repair and maintenance of high-tension power cables through the whole state. Beau and his team are in the middle of trying to complete the work on a giant statewide contract to upgrade the electrical lines before a massive storm hits. He butts heads with Duncan (Devon Sawa), a newly recruited linesman who also happens to be the on-again, off again boyfriend of Beau’s niece Bailey (Kate Bosworth).
The film is supposed to be a tribute to these men, who do unglamorous, unnoticed, yet undeniably courageous work in the course of trying to maintain a vital part of civilization. But that is not what happens in this film. It feels like the writers just gave up on trying to tell a coherent, movie-worthy story set in the world of these linesmen. It instead provides a plethora of soap opera subplots, focusing on lurid material that has little to do with the dangers involved when you’re dealing with high-tension wires.
This stops feeling like a true story pretty early on, because it becomes so much about the kind of drama you might expect in a Lifetime Original Movie. There is the matter of Beau’s bizarre hatred for Duncan, which manifests as a series of warnings to stay away from Bailey. The movie doesn’t really give Beau any good reasons to hate the young man, and it reflects badly on the hero of this story. There is the matter of the neighbors, which involves Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suspicions of an affair. If that’s not enough, the film decided it needed an overt villain, offering up a sleazebag character that exists solely to assault women.
So the film doesn’t really end up saying a lot about the life of a linesman. It doesn’t really seem all that interested in the highly specific nature of the work, never treating it with the same level of drama that it affords the soap opera subplots. There is a point where the work does intersect a bit with the overblown human drama, but it is utterly ridiculous. The film basically contrives a crisis so that these men can have more motivation to do the jobs that they have already been hired to do. It is stupid, and runs completely counter to what the film thinks it’s trying to say.
The production values are pretty crummy. They don’t rise above the level of television, which is where this movie really belongs. The director exhibits little control over the elements on screen, least of all his actors. Nobody seems to be doing the same accent. John Travolta hams it up to an extreme playing Beau Ginner, never finding the nuance that could make this figure seem like a real human being. Kate Bosworth always seems to be staring off into the distance, as if her next cue were coming from a mile away. Devon Sawa is a big lump of nothing on screen. The one bright spot is Sharon Stone, who gives everything to a role that doesn’t deserve it.
Life on the Line is just one those films that’s based on true events that don’t seem to care about what actually happened. Along the way, the writers decided that they needed to spice up the true events, filling in the time with the kind of heightened drama that is supposedly needed to keep an audience’s attention. And then at some point, they just forgot what it was that inspired the movie in the first place. They got caught up in the mechanical deployment of clichéd drama, offering poor tribute to the real people that were supposed to be honored.