”FREQUENCY” (2000) Review
Directed by Gregory Hoblit and written by Toby Emmerich, ”FREQUENCY” is an entertaining and intriguing time travel story about a New York City firefighter in 1969, who is able to communicate with his adult son in 1999, via a short wave radio. The movie starred Dennis Quaid, Jim Cavielzel, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich and Shawn Doyle.
A rare atmospheric phenomenon – the Aurora Borealis - allows a New York City firefighter named Frank Sullivan (Quaid) to communicate with his police detective son, John Sullivan (Cavielzel) 30 years in the future via short-wave radio. John uses this opportunity to warn Frank of his impending death in a warehouse fire, and manages to save the latter’s life. However, what he does not realize is that changing history has triggered a new set of tragic events, including the murder of his mother, Julia Sullivan (Mitchell). Father and son must now work together, 30 years apart, to find the murderer (Doyle) before he strikes so that they can change history - again.
Many have compared the plotlines of ”FREQUENCY” to the 1985 classic, ”BACK TO THE FUTURE”. I never understood why, since many time travel stories have dealt with different generations within a family interacting with each other – including two episodes of the television fantasy, ”CHARMED”. What made ”FREQUENCY” unique . . . at least for me is that neither of the two major characters actually travel through time – whether through the use of magic or a time machine. In fact, not one character does. The two major characters communicate with each other via a short wave radio and the atmospheric phenomenon, the Aurora Borealis. Frank and John Sullivan manage to change time . . . without leaving their respective time period. I have to admit that this was very clever of screenwriter Emmerich.
Another reason why I find the comparisons between ”FREQUENCY” and ”BACK TO THE FUTURE” hard to buy is the fact that ”FREQUENCY” is not only a time travel story, but also a thriller. In another clever plot twist, there is a serial killer loose called the Nightingale” murdering nurses in 1969. The case is re-opened by John and his partner/mentor, an old friend of his father named Satch DeLeon (Braugher), when an old corpse is discovered. As it turned out, the Nightingale killings had stopped after three victims, following Frank’s death in a warehouse fire. But when John warns his father of his impending death, Frank manages to save his life and that of a teenage girl. And his wife Julia, who is a nurse, is at the hospital to save the life of the killer, a cop named Jack Shephard. An act that leads to her violent death at his hands – and the deaths of six other nurses. Realizing the consequences of their actions, Frank and John race to save Julia’s life and the lives of Shephard’s other victims – and expose the cop as a serial murderer.
I must say that I ended up being very impressed by Emmerich’s script. He wrote an emotional and suspenseful story filled with family drama, fantasy and suspense. He took an original approach to time travel by having the two main characters travel through time via an object – namely a shorthand radio – without actually leaving their respective periods in time. The only misstep in Emmerich’s script occurred near the end in which featured Shepard’s attempt to kill members of the Sullivan family in both 1969 and 1999 – two incidents that cut back and forth within one sequence. I understood the killer’s attempt to commit murder in 1969. After all, he probably wanted to get even with Frank for exposing him as a serial killer, by murdering Julia. That episode ended with Frank blowing away Shephard’s hand with a shotgun before the latter escaped. But he came back to the Sullivan house, thirty years later to kill John. That simply did not make any sense to me . . . and it almost ruined the sequence for me. Not even Gregory Hoblit’s first-class direction or the competent editing of David Rosenbloom could elevate the scene.
When Hoblit took on the job as director of ”FREQUENCY”, he had difficulty in casting the two leads. Sylvester Stallone was originally considered for the role of Frank Sullivan. But Stallone pulled out over a dispute regarding his paycheck. In the end, Dennis Quaid won the role. And he turned out to be the perfect Frank – the boisterous and charming firefighter who loved his family and baseball. He managed to create a strong chemistry with the talented and surprisingly dark-haired Elizabeth Mitchell, who gave a charming performance as his wife, Julia. And despite the fact that both actors came from Texas (although Mitchell was born in Los Angeles), Quaid and Mitchell managed to create a convincing Queens accent. Well . . . almost. Andre Braugher gave solid support as Satch, Frank’s close friend and John’s mentor. He also had a delicious moment on screen when he discovered that Frank had been telling the truth about communicating with John through time. Emmerich's brother, Noah Emmerich, gave a funny performance as John’s best friend, Gordo Hersch. I also have to give kudos to Shawn Doyle for portraying a convincingly scary killer without any signs of acting histrionics. And of course, there is James Cavielzel, who did an excellent job of portraying Frank and Julia’s brooding and slightly obsessive adult son, John Sullivan. And although Cavielzel comes from the Pacific Northwest, his Queens accent turned out to be slightly better than Quaid and Mitchell’s. Hoblit managed to gather quite a cast and he did an excellent job with them.
Despite my misgivings over the film’s climatic action sequence featuring Shephard’s two attacks upon the Sullivan family, I must admit that I enjoyed ”FREQUENCY” very much. Screenwriter Toby Emmerich created a first-class and original screenplay. And director Gregory Hoblit did an excellent job of conveying Emmerich’s story with a group of talented actors led by Dennis Quaid and James Cavielzel, and a competent crew that included film editor David Rosenbloom. Not only is ”FREQUENCY” is a compelling science-fiction story about time travel and the consequences; it is also a suspenseful thriller and heartwarming family drama. I highly recommend it.