Yearning is at the heart of Frequency, directed by Gregory Hobbit from a screenplay by Toby Emmerich. It avoids the cliches of most time travel stories (there are no amusing scenes of the hero grappling with modern morals or technology), and goes most of them one better by having a believable and quite moving family relationship at its center.
The film opens in October 1969, a period quickly established with references to some of the year’s keystone events: the Mets are in the World Series (and would win in an amazing come from behind victory), and, when Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid) dances in his kitchen with his wife, Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), it’s to the accompaniment of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” the recording that put the King back on his throne at the top of the pop charts. Frank dotes on his son, John, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to him every night before bedtime, and he unwinds from the pressures of his job as a firefighter by endlessly puffing Camels, following his beloved Mets, and communicating with strangers on the other side of the airwaves on his pre-Internet ham radio.
Thirty years into the future, his son John is a 36 year-old cop, estranged from his girlfriend, immersed in the pursuit of a serial killer, and generally dissatisfied with life. Now living in his childhood home, he begins tinkering with his late father’s ham radio, and while discussing the Mets one night with a stranger on the airwaves, he tunes into the past. The baseball fan with whom he is speaking is not a stranger at all, but his father, alive and kicking in the year 1969. It is the day before his death in a warehouse fire.
Needless to say, the son warns his father of his impending doom, and the tragedy is avoided. But one does not change the past without impacting the future, and though Frank’s life has now been lengthened by twenty years (lung cancer from his cigarette habit is now set to claim him in 1989), disaster looms for others, including Julia, in the form of the Nightingale Killer, a psycho who has been murdering young women.
At this point, Frequency turns into a thriller, and a rather predictable one at that (spotting the killer is a piece of cake), but the thrills are well-handled by director Hobbit, and you’ll likely tighten the grip on the arm of your chair as father and son go head to head with the killer. More importantly, the tenderness of the father-son relationship is never overwhelmed by the plot’s many twists and turns, or by the action that almost dominates the film midway through. It is the tenderness that gives Frequency a special glow that is maintains from the first reel through the amusingly memorable and touching climax.
There are nice special-effects, but they are limited. It is the humans who take center stage. Dennis Quaid is excellent as usual, bringing an “average guy” vividly to life without resorting to condescension or sentimentality. Caviezel is equally good, and though Elizabeth Mitchell’s Julia has comparatively little screen time, she uses it well, conveying the strength of a woman who deeply loves her family, and whose love is abundantly returned. Andre Braugher, the fiery cop of TV’s “Homicide,” is less fiery here, but he provides a solidity that helps keep this imaginative yarn grounded in reality.
Frequency is a “feel good movie,” but one mercifully lacking the innocuousness that such a description often implies. Like time travel itself, Frequency casts a spell that is hard to resist.
Brian W. Fairbanks
Originally published at Paris Woman Journal
© 2001 Brian W. Fairbanks