Screenplay : Tobias Emmerich
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Dennis Quaid (Frank Sullivan), James Caviezel (John Sullivan), Elizabeth Mitchell (Julia Sullivan), Andre Braugher (Satch DeLeon), Shawn Doyle (Jack Shepard), Noah Emmerich (Gordo Hersch), Jordan Bridges (Graham Gibson), Melissa Errico (Samantha Thomas)
Although it is otherwise quite good, "Frequency" starts off on a bad note. It opens with a hectic, confusing, and disorienting action sequence that has something to do with a tanker truck that has overturned on a highway and is threatening to explode, although most of the action takes place in the sewer underneath the wreckage. This sequence, overlong and badly handled (it seems to be right out of the Michael Bay school of vexing chaos as action/adventure), does little to serve the plot outside of introducing us to the character of Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), a firefighter in 1969 who tends to take heroic risks on the job.
The story proper begins after the opening sequence. We find that Frank is a happily married man living in a blue-collar neighborhood in Queens with his wife, Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), who works as a nurse, and his six-year-old son, John, whom Frank affectionately refers to as "Chief." One of Frank's hobbies is maintaining contact on a short-wave ham radio, which allows him to talk to people all over the world. However, due to a strange, cosmic occurrence having to do with the aurora borealis and sun spots, Frank's short-wave radio connects with his son, John (James Caviezel), 30 years in the future, who lives in the same house in which he grew up and just happens to be toying with his father's old radio.
This is, of course, one of those plot developments where you either buy into it or you don't. First-time screenwriter Tobias Emmerich doesn't weigh the film down with a lot of hokey pseudoscientific explanations. Instead, he simply establishes the existence of the aurora borealis and leaves open the suggestion that astrophysical phenomena that we don't understand have something to do with a father in 1969 making radio connection with his son in 1999.
It just so happens that when John connects with his father, it is one day before Frank is supposed to die trying to save someone's life in a burning warehouse. John informs him of this; thus, instead of dying in 1969, Frank lives. However, because he lives when he wasn't supposed to, the future begins to change as Frank affects events that he previously would not have been a part of. Thus, when he goes to see his wife at the hospital where she works one night, he unknowingly causes a chain of events that will eventually culminate in Julia being murdered by the Nightingale killer, a serial killer who preys on nurses.
Once this happens, Frank and John must work together to figure out who the Nightingale killer is and how they can stop him before he gets to Julia. In 1999, John is a police detective, so he has access to the files on the Nightingale killer (who was never caught), which tell him when and where he is going to strike. Frank begins positioning himself in the locations where he knows the killer will prey on women, which naturally puts him in danger. The plot begins to twist and turn at this point because, once the killer figures out that Frank is on to him, he frames Frank and makes it look like he was responsible for the Nightingale murders.
"Frequency" was directed by Gregory Holbit ("Primal Fear," "Fallen"), who creates a strong sense of familial bonds by focusing on the relations between Frank, Julia, and their son in 1969, which gives weight and meaning to the events that later transpire. The film is a statement about how the slightest human actions have ripple effects that never stop through the years, although it runs into the same problem that all films dealing with any kind of time manipulation do: eventually, the logic runs out and the paradoxes become too overwhelming. Films of this kind require a certain amount of detachment and willingness to go along with the flow.
The film benefits from a pair of fine performances by Dennis Quaid ("Any Given Sunday") and James Caviezel ("The Thin Red Line"). Quaid has played unlikely action heroes in many movies, and here it is no different. He keeps telling his son that he's not a police officer, he's a fire fighter; but, as John tells him, there is no one else who can stop the Nightingale killer. Caviezel infuses John with a particular darkness that suits the character. When we first meet him, his girlfriend is leaving him, and we get the idea that he is not a complete man until he reconnects with his long-lost father. Some might accuse the ending scenes of being sentimental and a bit sappy, but they reaffirm the need for the father-son bond and suggest that John never felt whole because he prematurely lost his father.
In this way, "Frequency" is a satisfying thriller because it is about something more than just the mechanics of its plot. It has a good story and characters to go along with the suspense, which makes it that much more interesting and involving. If only someone had cut out that terrible opening sequence...
©2000 James Kendrick