Tell me if this sounds familiar. A group of guys doing a job that everybody depends on face a tragedy that changes their whole world. Thanks to directors like Peter Berg, we have seen this all too common trope again and again. But I really have no problem with that; in fact, I actually like 'Lone Survivor' and the recent 'Deepwater Horizon.’ But those films don’t beat you over the head with who they are and what they do. Mark Wahlberg gets a couple of quick talking scenes that let us know that he is the real deal, and then it’s off to the good stuff that we came there to see. 'Life on The Line' doesn’t understand that fact. On the contrary, it will pommel you over the head with the fact that these men are linemen until you feel so beaten over the head with its messages that it will leave you black and blue all over.
For the last ten years, John Travolta has been making a career out of choosing the wrong projects and miscasting himself. It is a sad day if I have to say Travolta is no Mark Wahlberg.... But Travolta is no Mark Wahlberg. This just doesn’t play to his strong suits one bit. Travolta plays Beau, and if you haven’t guessed it by now, Beau is a lineman. He and his team of linemen protect “the grid” and make sure everybody has power during heavy rainstorms and extreme weather, while everybody crushes on Beau and his cantankerous presence wherever he goes. This is such a shame because that is why I feel he is so miscast here. Travolta has such a fun and energetic presence; it baffles me when he insists on continuously taking roles for dower characters that don't play to his strengths. When you think of Travolta, do you think of a Texan/ex-biker/ bad ass? No? Well me neither, and it frustrates me to see him walk around with a Texan belt buckle and take on a horrendous accent. There are times when it delves into hilarity, like when a character says “Hey! Don't mess with him. He will hit you so hard your brain will leak through your ears!” Meanwhile, Travolta just stands there confused as to how he should react to the fact that someone actually said that about him.
Then there is the heavy-handed way the movie deals with the fact that it is about a group of linemen. I don’t know if this is a detriment or an asset. Everything in this entire town revolves around the linemen. Why is Beau such a curmudgeon? Because he saw his best friend die on the line, and then his friend’s wife got into a car accident right in front of him on the way to the hospital. Beau has a niece named Bailey (Kate Bosworth), and she is dating two guys: the good sweet guy, Duncan (Devon Sawa), and the dangerous guy, Ron (Matt Bellefleur). The good guy that we all know she will end up with, guess what he aspires to be? A lineman, because his father was. Every character in the movie that isn't a lineman is either a drunk, cheater, or just an all around morally reprehensible person. This movie wants this strong and heavy handed message so badly that it bludgeons you over the head with it over and over again. Honestly, between the whole pregnancy subplot that ends up having to do with a lineman, and the way that the crew of linemen are shoehorned into the climax just for that extra layer of cheese factor, I felt that this became a parody of this genre of films, which was actually the most enjoyable part of the movie, giving me many instances of outright laughter.
'Life on The Line’s' biggest fault is that it is a disaster film without the disaster. We keep on waiting for the moment where some tension is injected into this plot, and when it never happens we as an audience feel cheated. So, what do they focus on? All the melodrama listed above and how much of an honor it is to be a lineman. Don’t get me wrong, I completely respect the profession. As it is stated over and over in the film, "without linemen, we wouldn’t be able to heat our homes during a storm,” but is that all you want to focus on? I can tell you that this is all this production wanted to focus on, and it acts as its biggest detriment. This is a film so preachy and self important that it forgets how to be a film in the genre that it so enthusiastically wanted to be a part of in the first place.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Lionsgate brings 'Life on The Line' to Blu-ray with a textured slipcover to hardcover casing. A BD-50 Blu-ray and an Ultraviolet Digital HD Download code inside. A series of skippable Lionsgate trailers lead to the traditional still frame main menu that allows you to navigate from there.
'Life on The Line' shoots for an electric Blu-ray outing and succeeds with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that is far better than it would appear at first glance. Framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, details on this film are quite sparse, but judging by the overall look of the film, it looks like this was shot digitally. There is absolutely no grain to be seen here, while clarity and detail is at its absolute highest. There is actually very little extreme weather in this disaster movie, so what we do get is bright blue skies and beautiful landscapes. When you are up "On the Line" with these characters, you get to see the strikingly bright and vibrant landscapes in amazing detail. Dimensionality is also in full effect in these scenes as the lineman pops out from the beautiful vista in the background. The same goes for simple shots like the on-camera interviews that take place. The person being interviewed had a beautiful level of separation between himself and the brick background that is truly impressive, while still being a relatively simplistic shot.
Now, Travolta has been taking cues from Nick Cage’s playbook lately, and has been donning some pretty horrendous facial hair, so that due to the amount of detail on screen, you see every imperfection in that rat’s nest he calls a beard. Even when we do get a darker scene like when the disaster finally hits, we still get great amounts of detail in the rain and weather effects. The cinematographer and people who worked on this transfer deserve better than the film they were given, and in turn I do feel like it actually elevates this material a bit. For that reason, I want to commend the people who actually worked on this film for providing such a technically pleasing transfer.
Lionsgate puts it all on the line with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that is just as technically impressive as its video transfer. Like I stated before, this movie is a drama that parades itself as a disaster film. So, I would normally say I wasn’t expecting to be floored by this mix.... but contrary to my preconceived notions, this is actually a damn impressive track. Surrounds are quite active, with the score expertly implemented to convey the right amount of cheese that this movie’s drama is going for. Wind and rain whip through your sound system as you are on the line with our characters, creating an immersive experience that aids the film greatly.
The LFE Track gets to flex its muscles with every heavy handed beat this score has to offer, and when disaster does strike, thunder hits your system with deep, hard boisterous bass tones. Dialogue is at a generous volume, and is also crystal clear. Lionsgate has always put together exceptional mixes for their Blu-rays regardless of the actual quality of the material itself, and this is no different. It takes skill to bring a track like this to life and not have it be a front heavy and underwhelming affair. Like the video transfer, I have to commend the technicians that worked on this mix for providing a engaging but still accurate depiction of what it is like to be a lineman.
Behind the Scenes with Cast/Crew Interviews (16:49 HD) - A interview-style doc where we learn that one of the writers credited here is an actual lineman who went to the producers of the film, and they actually kept him on set as a consultant. Unfortunately, that is the only thing we learn, while the rest just feels like it is stating the obvious about the lives of these characters.
"Life On The Line" Music Video (3:55)
Trailer Gallery (1:51)
'Life on The Line' thanks a series of linemen who have risked their lives to provide us with power for our homes, so we do know there is a great deal of love for the profession behind the camera. But sometimes that same love can lead to a movie’s downfall, and that is exactly what happened here. I truly believe this film brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "heavy handed." They want to linger on the lives of these linemen so much, and yet all they have to offer is ABC television level drama, and bad drama at that. I don't live in a country town, but I am willing to bet everyone who lives in Texas doesn’t have their life revolve around the local linemen in their area. And I'm absolutely sure everyone who doesn’t at least have a lineman in their life isn't a drunken detestable human being. And lastly, having friends and family in Texas, I am damn sure that any self-respecting Texan wouldn’t put on such a ridiculous, stereotypical accent like Travolta has as Beau here. It is truly bad and belongs on SNL, not in a motion picture trying to be taken seriously. This movie is the equivalent of 'Deepwater Horizon' if the first fifteen minutes of that movie was the entire movie, until fifteen minutes before it ends, when the oil rig goes up. It is a real shame because there is some real technical talent on display here in the Video and Audio department. But it doesn't carry the movie through the bad performances and the trite story lines interwoven into this movie.