Travolta plays Beau Ginner, a man who works as a lineman for a power company in Texas. Years ago, his carelessness on the job cost his brother his life in a lightning strike, and worse, his brother's wife's as well, who is killed en route to the hospital in a car wreck. Now, he's got the respect of his men who know him to be a careful guy who would rather get a job done right than get a job done ahead of schedule. He is the guardian of his brother's daughter, Bailey (Kate Bosworth), a waitress at a local diner still dithering on filling out college applications. Although he naturally cares about his niece, her safety is even more important under the weight of responsibility he feels for her parents' deaths. This fuels his distaste for her boyfriend Duncan (Devon Sawa) -- who's just landed a job on Beau's team. In Beau's eyes, Duncan is a bad egg, but in truth, he's a good man whose reputation is tainted by his ex-con brother Ron (Matt Bellefleur) and their drunk and depressed mother (Sharon Stone).
Within these story parameters, the movie is often surprisingly effective. Travolta, whose career has often suffered from bad choices, has a certain warmth and weather to him that fits the character of Beau. He's very believable as an old-timer who would rather shake hands with a belligerent biker than get into a bar fight, and infuses both his heartbreak over the things in his past and the pride he feels in Bailey with weight that befits his boxy frame. Although not all of director David Hackl's choices are on the money, he is mostly wise enough to stand down while Travolta puts the work in, rather than trying to underline these beats with too much additional sentiment. Sawa and Bosworth are also strong here, turning in unsurprising but reliable performances. They have good chemistry with each other, effectively conveying the way in which their combined problems seem less worrisome when they're together, which is enough of a spark to help power the film forward.
Too bad writers Primo Brown, Marvin Peart, and Peter I. Horton don't believe that's enough. To this relatively simple three-sided dynamic, they add in an entire thread about Ron being infatuated with Bailey. Believing Bailey and Duncan to be on a break, if not broken up, he starts hanging around her house, pushing himself on her at every moment. To her rescue, but the movie's detriment, is Beau and Bailey's new next door neighbor, Carline (Julie Benz), who swoops in like any good wingwoman to get Ron to buzz off. Soon, they're bonding over insecurities, including Bailey's uncertainty about going to college, and Carline's suspicion that things aren't quite all right with her husband, Eugene (Ryan Robbins), a former war vet who now works for the same line company as Beau. These threads all exist for no particular reason but to help contrive a race-against-time climax that is entirely at odds with the character work that makes the movie work. There's also a useless and somewhat annoying framing device, in which the story is relayed through an unidentified documentary or news crew talking to Duncan, which adds nothing but running time.
After the film concludes, text on the screen explains that Life on the Line was an idea by a real lineman, and that the film is intended as an explanation of the hardships they face and the risk they undertake in order to do their jobs. It's a fine message, which why it's a shame that the finished film is so interested in telling stories -- even that of a traumatized veteran -- that really have nothing to do with the job in question.
The Video and Audio
Trailers for Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day (back-to-back!), Imperium, Heist, and I Am Wrath play before the main menu, and are re-viewable under the special features menu as "Also From Lionsgate." An original theatrical trailer for Life on the Line is also included.