Frequency | Killier Movie Review

Starring Dennis Quaid, James Caviezel, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich, Shawn Doyle, Jordan Bridges, Melissa Errico,Daniel Henson.
Written by Tobias Emmerich.
Directed by Gregory Hoblit.
Rated PG-13.

June 18, 2000

3 Stars of 4

Logical time travel movies are a near-impossibility. Considering that the skeptic’s best argument against the possibility of time travel is the idea of altered realities, writing a script that deals with this problem is an imposing task. Occasionally, we get a film that does manage it. Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” was one such film. But more frequently, we get films that don’t much deal with it at all. There is one question to ask in this case: Does the film have other virtues that override the existing logical inconsistencies? The “Terminator” films made up for them with exciting action, “Back to the Future” did it with an entertaining story, and the new film “Frequency” pulls off the trick with a strong package of its own.  Is “Frequency” filled with plot holes? Yes. Does it matter? Not really.

The film opens in October of 1969. Firefighter Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid) puts his life on the line every time he suits up for his job, then goes home to his loving wife Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell) and son Johnny (Daniel Henson). The double-pronged story flashes forward to 1999, where Johnny (now Jim Caviezel) is all grown up and working as a police detective. A strange occurrence — the appearance of aurora borealis over New York City — allows father and son to communicate through the same ham radio Frank used in ’69 and that John has found in the present day. Though both are initially skeptical of the idea, John eventually takes this opportunity to warn his father against his impending death in a warehouse fire, and he succeeds in saving Frank from certain doom. Now flooded with memories of a full life with his father alive, John is initially overjoyed, until he discovers that the changes to the timeline have been disastrous: A serial killer that would have died has instead lived to kill seven more women. Frank and John now must work together to set things right, with John using the information he has gathered in the future to instruct Frank on what to do in the past.

The premise of “Frequency” is unusual, and requires getting over one very important mental hurdle to fully accept: John and Frank are the only ones conscious of how the timeline has been changed as a result of their actions.  This isn’t explained; you just have to go with it. When Frank doesn’t die in a fire, John is the only one who remembers it differently, while everyone else remembers it the new way. The concept also runs into problems concerning just how synchronous the two realities — 1969 and 1999 — are to each other. Sometimes Frank’s changing the past results in something happening right away in John’s world, and sometimes John gets the changes ahead of time. Now, the filmmakers might have perfectly good explanations for this, and I could probably come up with something fairly convoluted (but nevertheless logical) if I thought about it hard enough (for example, the reason John gets advance information of  the serial killer’s murders was because the change had already happened in Frank’s world, and John is only witnessing the *projection* of that change), but explanations aren’t really the point. When “Frequency” gets cooking, it’s a riveting little thriller, even if it is confusing. What matters to a film like this is if the plot makes sense in the moment, and “Frequency” works as long as it keeps moving.

The film manages to be engaging despite the logical confusion. Director Gregory Hoblit and screenwriter Toby Emmerich structure “Frequency” as good Hollywood entertainment, establishing  decent, likable characters, making us care for them, and setting up a goal to be reached and a conflict to be resolved. I liked many of the creative touches: the split screens, allowing us to see how the universe is being affected in both realities, and the greater framework of baseball to drive the action forward. It actually uses the 1969 Mets-Orioles World Series (the one that featured the Amazin’ Mets) to great effect — Frank uses John’s advance knowledge of the Series outcome to convince his friends to believe him. (Admittedly, this device may only be of interest to a baseball fan like myself.) I even liked the final scene, which features Frank and John both fighting the same man simultaneously in different time periods. Some may find this scene blindingly confusing, as the reality shifts start coming fast and furious, but it does make sense if you think about it (and give the script a lot of leeway), and let’s face it: It’s a darn cool way to end the film. There are enough surprises and plot twists in “Frequency” to keep you on your toes, and as a result the movie avoids growing stagnant.

The other major thing to appreciate about “Frequency” is the handling of the father-son relationship. Quaid and Caviezel carry off their parts easily; it’s a rock-solid job from both actors. The relationship is instantly credible because they find the human truth behind the high concept: How would one react to being able to communicate with a dead relative, or with a future descendant? Watching the exchanges between Frank and John will give you a pretty good idea of how to answer that question. The credibility of the human relationship is absolutely crucial to the rest of the film; if we don’t believe in the characters, we don’t care about the outcome of the thriller  plot. Here, we do care, because we like the lead actors. I also liked some of the supporting cast members. Elizabeth Mitchell gets stuck with two thankless roles, playing Julia the doting wife *and* mother, but still performs admirably. Andre Braugher, late of the television show “Homicide: Life on the Street,” gives a nice supporting turn as Frank’s best friend and future colleague of John. He has a lovely scene in a diner in which he tries to explain the situation to Julia while Frank’s World Series predictions come true before his very eyes. Braugher strikes the perfect facial expression here, simultaneously dismayed and amused.

Perhaps the only thing I didn’t like about “Frequency” is the overly sentimental coda, during which the camera’s focus goes a little too soft and the baseball theme gets carried overboard. But that’s only because the film had already earned a poignancy without resorting to cheap tactics. I freely acknowledge that “Frequency” may best work as a “guy” movie, since it focuses on the very male-oriented idea of father-son relationships (echoes of “Field of Dreams” can be easily heard), but the underlying concept is universally applicable. Who wouldn’t want to speak with a long-dead parent?  Or see how their children turn out? “Tell me about your life, son” — excuse me while I mist up. And don’t call me a sissy.

Source: Killer Movie