With much recent film buzz dedicated to Chad Staheski’s long-anticipated JOHN WICK 4 (2023) among other blockbusters being released, it is somewhat sad to see that Mel Gibson’s recent film ‘ON THE LINE’ (2023) overshadowed by other offerings – when in all honesty, Gibson’s work should never be ignored. Regardless of his exploits beyond the silver screen, the man is quite simply one of the greatest gifts to modern cinema; a talented actor, director, and icon that should command more respect than be recognised for courting controversy. (And yes, as this movie critic is Australian there is a clear bias but one that is justified and vindication especially if one refers to his large catalog of films).
Upon viewing the trailer, ON THE LINE does prima facie, share some similar DNA with a little-known TV series from the 80s named ‘MIDNIGHT CALLER’ that seems to have all been forgotten despite the presence of the talented Gary Cole in the lead. Here, the aging Gibson gives an excellent performance, and in some ways evokes the same sardonic, acerbic yet insightful manner of shock jock Howard Stern. By design, it would appear that this might be a quasi-remake of Oliver Stone’s ‘TALK RADIO’ (1988) but unlike the self-loathing of Eric Bogosian, Gibson’s Elvis Cooney is far cheekier and daring with far greater confidence.
However, delving deeply into the film in totality it is evident that Romuald Boulanger has taken more cues from David Fincher’s THE GAME (1997). There are some twists and turns which are creatively crafted, yet not labored in such a mechanical way that has been spoiled by the overrated M. Night Shyamalan. ON THE LINE may seem like a by-the-numbers thriller, but the always-compelling Gibson elevates the picture with his usual charm. Mel Gibson plays Elvis Cooney, a late-night talk show radio host that encounters a mysterious caller that claims to have kidnapped his family. Cooney’s late-night sparring partner is clearly unhinged, threatening to murder his family and blow up the station.
Gibson’s Elvis Cooney is largely obnoxious yet with a roguish charm that is reminiscent of his prior roles but here is less action and far more dialogue. Whilst Cooney is a very dedicated and loving family man, he is far from perfect, impolitely referring to an ethnic security guard with a nickname rather than attempting to pronounce his complicated name. His colleague Justin (Kevin Dillon) despises him out of professional rivalry, whilst Cooney’s station manager Sam (Nadia Fares) cautions him on their failing ratings. Evidently, Cooney is weathered and too cynical to care seemingly going through the motions with less of a spark, and more of an inclination to blurt out whatever he feels in the wee hours of his midnight slot. Yet Cooney’s arrogance is challenged when an irate caller named Gary (Paul Spera) threatens the radio host, becoming more vicious with each passing minute of their heated exchange. Things go from bad to worse as Gary has taken things a step too far when he does the unthinkable and kidnaps Cooney’s wife and daughter. It would appear at this juncture that Gary isn’t simply a sadistic psychopath, but is seeking to punish Elvis in the worst possible way and make him suffer.
Evidently, there are plot holes aplenty in this film and one needs to suspend their disbelief as they follow Cooney throughout his ordeal – but these are by no means film-breaking, as works of fiction often possess these traits in any genre. Whilst ‘ON THE LINE’ might seem silly and bewildering in parts, it still manages to be terrifying and entertaining with the ending slightly disappointing in its predictability.
Gibson is the sort of true thespian that always extends his creativity with a real sense of gravitas; and whilst he is not as random as say Nic Cage in his choice of films, Gibson pursues projects that cater to his enthusiasm and leadership with him excelling in roles that require impulse as a consequence of immediacy. With Cooney, Gibson’s characterization is that of a successful but jaded radio host whose contemptuousness is drastically altered when his private life is impacted.
ON THE LINE does suffer in parts, especially where all radio station stakeholders begin to collaborate as if they are playing an escape room and solving a puzzle. The main antagonist has his own backstory that is largely interesting to a point, but also labored to the extent it becomes tedious and he is less menacing and more annoying. The supporting cast in Mary (Alia Seror-O’Neill) and Dylan (William Moseley) are largely likable and portray the requisite sense of urgency as well as support for their colleague.
French writer and director Romuald Boulanger has crafted a decent thriller and hit pay dirt with the casting of Gibson as the actor truly carries the film. The script can seem a bit tepid in parts, with the less experienced players sometimes milling around the more seasoned Gibson.
Gibson has some truly underrated films such as the brilliance of ‘THE BEAVER’ (2011) and the seemingly ignored ‘EDGE OF DARKNESS’ (2010) both of which are mandatory viewing and perfect examples of Gibson’s versatility. Here, the Aussie is perfectly harnessed in the role that capitalizes on his rich, gravelly voice and powerful intensity – it is therefore a shame that Boulanger has somehow made Gibson more restrained in his portrayal of Cooney.
With a frustrating conclusion that almost teeters on the precipice of cringe, it almost seems to force a sense of closure rather than allow the viewer to share dire consequences with a flawed protagonist. Thankfully this is nowhere as bad as the ending of the American remake of ‘THE VANISHING’ (1993), but it still is somewhat disappointing when the conclusion is more of a thud than a stirring crescendo. Yet much like the aforementioned ‘TALK RADIO’ and The Howard Stern Show, it’s clear that the thematic element here is the consequence of shock humor and the fallout of behavior. Through a critical lens, we are forced to explore the nature of such media where entertainment is defined by more abrasive qualities that seek to shock, offend, and in some cases demean. Yet, as this has its place in contemporary society it does solicit the attention of the more cynical elements of the community that decry those who are too sensitive or soft.
Given that the last film this critic reviewed was Michael Jai White’s woefully subpar ‘AS GOOD AS DEAD’ (2022), Gibson’s latest offering was not simply a mere palate cleanser but a substantively filling cinematic main course that was satisfying as well as refreshing. It may not be a masterpiece but is well worth viewing if not to see an aged Gibson in a somewhat retiring role-playing cat and mouse and doing it with potency.
Vance Ang has primarily been professionally published in bodybuilding and fitness since 2005, having written extensively for hardcopy publications such as Australian IRONMAN and FLEX; but also for e-publications such as RAW Muscle and more recently the media platform, The Evolution of Bodybuilding. He is a Melbourne based policy and strategy consultant currently undertaking his post graduate study in Law. In addition to bodybuilding, conservative politics and Savate (French Kickboxing), he has long been a fan of movies and cinema of all genres – subsequently prompting an interest in modern story telling, that being script writing. He is in the process of writing his first horror novel ‘Providence’