“Frequency” is what you would call a high-concept film: it has the ability to sell itself in a single descriptive sentence. In this case: “A son somehow makes contact with his father 30 years in the past, averts the father’s death, but lets loose a serial killer.” That is the whole premise of “Frequency.”
Dennis Quad (“The Rookie”) plays Frank Sullivan, a firefighter who died in the line of duty 30 years ago. Frank’s son is John (James Caviezel, “The Thin Red Line”), a moody cop whose life has gone to hell in a hand basket in the present. John still hasn’t gotten over the lost of his father, an event that has denied him a happy childhood, leading to his own failures as an adult. Everything changes when a natural phenomenon appears over New York City and John somehow makes contact with his father through the same ham radio set. At first neither can believe they’re related, and Frank thinks John is some cook trying to scare his family. But after John’s knowledge of the future saves Frank’s life in a fire, the two realize they are indeed father and son, separated by 30 years.
The above happens very early on in the film, so it’s not a spoiler; the movie’s real conflict arises only after Frank’s survival sets loose a chain of events that includes Frank’s wife (and John’s mother) being killed by a serial killer. The killer had originally only killed 3, but that number has now jumped to 10, and only John (the cop) remembers that events in the present have changed. Something Frank did in the past has changed the future, and the rest of the movie involves John and Frank, working 30 years apart, trying desperately to find the killer before he can kill again. (The movie does tell us what Frank did to change the future; it involves Frank’s wife, a nurse, and a scene that takes place at a hospital.)
Movies like “Frequency” never really bothers to explain why this or that happens — it just did, or is. Consider the concept behind Tom Hanks’ hit movie, “Big,” where a boy suddenly transforms into a grown man overnight after making a wish at a carnival. No explanation is given, and none is needed. Why? Because the movie is obviously not sold as a hard-core science fiction film, and thus it doesn’t have to explain itself. “Frequency” is like that — beyond its basic premise of communications through a ham radio set spurred on by a natural phenomenon, there’s no other explanation given. And does it matter? Not in the least, mostly because the rest of the movie is so good.
All that said, there are some minor problems with “Frequency” that bothered me, although I can understand why the filmmakers did it. One scene involves Frank, in the past, writing on a desk with a soldering needle, and we see the same writings appearing on the same desk in the present to John, who sees the letters being written one by one. Now, mind you, this is a very cool scene, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense. If Frank had written the letters on the desk 30 years ago, why is the letter suddenly appearing now 30 years later? Of course asking a question like this is not recommended, since it might make you think about, er, other things.
Momentarily lapses in common sense aside, “Frequency” does what it does very well. Director Gregory Hoblit (“Hart’s War”) shows the initial fantastical meeting (via ham radio) between father and son with a sense of wonder, and the rest of the film maintains this level of fascination and suspense with an even hand. The mystery as to the serial killer’s identity is very well done and Frank’s investigation in the past and John’s in the present manages to compliment rather than overlap.
“Frequency” is a good film with some irritating lapses in judgment by writer Toby Emmerich, but it succeeds because it answers a question many of us have often thought about: If you could change the past, what would you change? But it also introduces another question that none of us have really thought about: If you could change the past, but it meant altering your entire life, including events that won’t be so favorable, would you still do it?
Gregory Hoblit (director) / Toby Emmerich (screenplay)
CAST: Dennis Quaid …. Frank Patrick Sulliven
James Caviezel …. John Francis
Shawn Doyle …. Jack Shepard
Elizabeth Mitchell …. Jules Sullivan
Andre Braugher …. Satch DeLeon