Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 3 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!
*very mild spoilers*
It shouldn’t be any secret ’round these parts that I am, let’s say, fond of time travel movies, Back to the Future (my review) being the top of the bunch. Time travel, however, can be a tricky subject, and if it’s not done well, it can be almost painful to watch. Thankfully, Frequency – which happens to be a time travel movie that doesn’t actually feature time travel – handles its subject matter with great care and gives us some great drama along the way.
In October 1969, we’re introduced to Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), a firefighter who loves his job, his wife Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), and his son John. Flash forward to October 1999 where we meet John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel), now a 36-year-old police officer who we learn lost his father in a fire…30 years ago. Struggling with the departure of his girlfriend and the impending anniversary of his father’s death, John discovers Frank’s old ham radio and, upon hooking it up, finds none other than his own deceased father on the other end of the conversation. Faced with the question of “what if” and all the implications that lie therein, John and Frank begin to reconnect but then must face the consequences that come with meddling with time.
As I mentioned above, this is a time travel movie that doesn’t feature time travel; instead, we have John’s ability to manipulate the past by communicating with his father and changing the way things “originally” happened, causing fascinating ripple effects that we witness in the form of memory flashbacks, changing pictures, and even matter being manipulated in real time. For example, in one scene Frank, in a moment of irony, accidentally sets fire to an object on his desk, and John, sitting at the same desk 30 years later, witnesses the scorch mark appearing first hand. Scenes like this (and another in which Frank writes a message with a soldering iron on the same desk) communicate to the audience that these two characters’ interactions at different moments in time are happening concurrently and have an effect on each other.
Speaking of these two characters, Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel are perfectly cast as a father/son duo. Quaid’s introduction as Frank shows us both the passion he has for his job and for helping other people – at his own peril – as well as his immense love for his family; dancing with his wife while singing Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” (my favorite Presley song) is a highlight of the movie, and Quaid’s natural ease and likability boosts the scene even further. Jim Caviezel’s John is tortured and depressed – his girlfriend is gone, he has grown up without his dad, and he’s distanced from his mother – but he ultimately shares in his father’s desire to help people. Once they are able to reconnect with each other via the radio, we get a great sense of chemistry despite the fact that they are never in the same room at the same time. One scene in particular has the two catching up on subjects such as life, baseball, and marriage, ending with an incredibly heartfelt “I love you” – something they haven’t been able to say to each other in 30 years. It’s this relationship between Frank and John that serves as the focus of the film and presents the majority of the heart.
Other characters I want to mention but won’t linger on too long for fear of spoilers are Elizabeth Mitchell’s Julia, or “Jules” as she’s affectionately called by Frank and others. She fills the dual roles of loving mother/wife and tough woman who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or others. As a nurse, she works hard to save others’ lives, but in a scene late in the film when her son’s life is in danger, she does what it takes to jump in and potentially sacrifice herself in order to save his life. Andre Braugher’s Satch, police pal of Frank and eventually John when he joins the force, has his moment in the spotlight as well in a scene where he expresses a huge range of emotions, from anger to incredulity to disbelief to tenderness, and at no point does it seem over the top. One more character to mention: Shawn Doyle eventually appears as the villain, and he’s a perfect mix of grounded while still maintaining a certain level of sleaze that makes you know he’s up to no good, but, again, he’s never over the top or hard to accept as a potential real person. (Worth noting that we also get a young Michael Cera in his first feature film role, playing the son of John’s long-time friend Gordo, who is played by Noah Emmerich.)
The rest I’ll leave to the podcast because it features some great discussion between Mugglecast‘s own Eric Scull and me. It isn’t the first time I’ve said it and it certainly won’t be the last, but I love time travel movies, and Frequency is no exception. Sure, it has its fair share of sci-fi and even a bit of action, but the real strength of this movie lies in its characters and the love that they show for each other…everything else is just an added bonus. This movie is underrated and is definitely worth the watch!
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense violence and disturbing images