Frequency (2000)

2 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Remember the scene in 1986’s “Peggy Sue Got Married” where Kathleen Turner’s character has just traveled back in time and was shocked to hear the voice of her dead grandmother on the telephone? That was a heartbreaking scene because it tapped into genuine emotions. What would you say if a dead relative—one that was very dear to you—was suddenly speaking to you again? What would you feel? Your heart would probably leap into your throat and you would probably want to cry for them.

“Frequency” is a science-fiction film that plays that way. It’s about a man in 1999 who finds his late father’s old ham radio and finds he is actually able to talk to the father from the year 1969. It’s as if time is continuing 30 years ahead or behind, depending on which side you consider.

The man in 1999 is a cop named John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel). When he was six years old, in 1969, a warehouse fire took the life of his firefighter father Frank (Dennis Quaid). One night, John looks through his father’s old trunk and finds his father’s ham radio. The radio still works and John decides to try it out. But who calls him on it? A man who seems to be “lost in the past,” if you will. This man is Frank. He’s talking about the 1969 World Series, and John laughs about the games he saw then. Frank wonders what he means, since the first game had just started. But John knows something about the outcomes of the games.

It’s later revealed to both John and Frank that they’re talking to each other thirty years apart via this ham radio. It’s a miracle that seems to have occurred thanks to extraordinary solar activity (Aurora Borealis). It’s a big, unbelievable occurrence.

Like most films dealing with such oddness in time, like time-travel stories, John learns that time can be altered. On the day that Frank is supposed to die in that warehouse fire, John warns him not to trust his instincts for once and he won’t perish in the flames. It works—the present time has changed.

This must be somewhat complicated. In fact, there are certain things that I was a bit confused by. For example, John feels like he remembers the original timeline but still has new memories of the altered timeline. If he and Frank changed the future, wouldn’t John be an altered John? He probably wouldn’t remember the old timeline. Everyone else has changed; they believe that Frank died of lung cancer instead of a fire. But then again, I don’t think you ask those kinds of question in time-travel stories.

Then, things get even more complicated as it turns out that this change in time has set off a chain reaction for the new present. The film transforms into a murder mystery as John discovers that the infamous Nightingale Killer has taken ten victims instead of the original timeline’s three. And one of those victims is his own mother (Elizabeth Mitchell). So, Frank and John use information they gain from their own time periods to put pieces of the puzzle involving the killer’s identity in order to prevent the killings from occurring, thus changing time again and saving lives.

The entire second half of the movie is focused on this murder mystery, and at first, it’s quite intriguing in the way that it’s set up. But then it sort of grows tiresome and drags on when we’d much rather see more of the relationship between father and son, which is really the heart of the story. That’s why I’m recommending “Frequency.” There are a few plot holes and inconsistencies, but the premise of the film and this relationship between Frank and John is endearing enough to make me care.

Dennis Quaid turns in a terrific performance as Frank. He’s likeable, convincing, and quite a father too. Jim Caviezel as John is merely adequate, but he does sell those intense moments. Of the supporting cast, Elizabeth Mitchell is underused as Frank’s wife and John’s mother, but Andre Braugher is excellent as Satch, Frank’s best friend.

The science of “Frequency” shouldn’t really matter, as not much is made out of it. But the fiction is a true delight. It shows good family values with its engaging premise and the relationship between a man and his late father provides the film’s heart.

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