Frequency (2000)
September 28, 2020 12:45 PM - Subscribe

An accidental cross-time radio link connects father and son across 30 years. The son tries to save his father's life, but then must fix the consequences.

What if you had the chance to travel back in time and change just one event in your life? What would it be? For John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel), there is no question. He would undo the events of October 12, 1969, when the out-of-control Bruxton fire took the life of his father (Dennis Quaid), a heroic firefighter. Now John may get exactly what he wished for -- and much more than he bargained for.

Nick Rogers: There’s amusing proof of technology’s ever-shrinking shelf life in 2000’s “Frequency,” as Jim Caviezel fixes a VCR and Yahoo! is the Internet buzzword. But as with “modern” mentions of Pepsi Free and a DeLorean in “Back to the Future,” these have aged into charmingly dated details of an innovative time-crossing thriller blending “Future’s” rush with “Backdraft’s” firefighting and a dash of “Zodiac.”

Director Gregory Hoblit’s best film generates a Spielbergian fascination with the temporal drama of twisting timelines, all of it infused with as much personal drama as situational tension. Past events mourned in the present are unmade, instinct battles influence, penance and punishment are doled out retroactively, John’s future and Frank’s present reconfigure in immediate, occasionally grotesque fashion and new memories squeeze out the old ones.

Maintaining its composure before a throttle-down finish of Frank and John making others’ lives right, this popular-science thriller emphasized empathy, spirit and guts.

Moira Macdonald: But the time-travel movie - especially when played straight - is a tricky little monster, and screenwriter Toby Emmerich seems to get a bit desperate toward the end. As everyone races to try to catch a murderer in both 1969 and 1999 (oh, I won't even try to explain it), things happen so fast that the rules of logic that the film has set up seem to be abandoned. For example: If somebody's dead in 1969, they're dead in 1999, right? So how can they be killed again?

All in all, the movie's not a bad attempt, but ultimately disappointing. Still, for a few moments in which it delivers on its undeniably cool premise - such as one when father and son warble a tune ("Take Me Out to the Ball Game," of course) to themselves, 30 years apart, simultaneously - "Frequency" is worth seeing.

Mick LaSalle: Any capsule description of the plot of "Frequency" makes it sound like a peculiar and not very interesting film. So it should be said that "Frequency" is a fairly wonderful movie about fathers and sons and the mystery of time. Both a thriller and a science-fiction picture, its elements are held together by a core of sometimes overwhelming emotion. . .

The picture is something of a time capsule. The 1969 scenes capture the feeling of chaos in the New York of the late '60s. But as it takes place during the World Series, it also conveys the sense of magic that pervaded the entire city when the Mets squared off against the Baltimore Orioles. Everything stopped. Everyone was united in common cause. And when it was over, it all seemed inevitable. These feelings are evoked by the movie.

One of the best scenes shows father and son discussing that series. In the father's world, it hasn't happened yet; in the son's, it's a 30-year-old memory. In a sense, the son is catching up on a bonding experience that every other father and son in New York had in 1969.

posted by Carillon (10 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It’s been a long while since I’ve seen the movie but I did really like it. I don’t remember seeing that trailer beforehand thank god because it tells about 99% of the story.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:15 PM on September 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I watched this umpty-ump times on cable. The 'time-travel' logic of the movie doesn't really hold up by the end to the rules it establishes in the beginning, but my memory of the DVD commentary is that they did kind of a drastic rewrite of the ending too late to change the beginning, so logic made way for emotion. But my memory is that the original ending would have left the father still dead at the end, and who the fuck wants that kind of downer? In a movie/show with two people communicating from different time periods, I want to see them end up in the same frame at the end. (shaking my fist at Quantum Leap forever, grrr.)

The only other thing I remember from the dvd commentary is the director regretting that he never did a profanity-free take close-up of the bad guy's telling Dennis Quaid "I'll snap it's fucking neck" when he was holding onto little Jim Caviezel, so when he had to lose the swear because the studio wanted to get the PG-13 rating, he had to use a reaction shot of Quaid to the offscreen "I'll snap it's fucking neck", and he was sad to lose how incredibly dead-eyed creepy the villain looked delivering the line.

"One of the best scenes shows father and son discussing that series. In the father's world, it hasn't happened yet; in the son's, it's a 30-year-old memory. In a sense, the son is catching up on a bonding experience that every other father and son in New York had in 1969."

That was a great scene - but for me I think the scene that made me re-watch whenever I happened upon it was the Buxton fire sequence ending. The intercutting of Quaid going down the slide with the closeups of Caveziel's eye as the new memories are born, the falling helmet and the falling glass, so wonderfully intense. (Oh, and that's one other thing I learned from the dvd commentary - that Quaid throwing his helmet out the window is something a fire-fighter would do when pretty sure that they were about to die in the fire, as a way of telling your crew your last location.)
posted by oh yeah! at 5:00 PM on September 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

We just rewatched this last night and really loved it. It's probably been 15 years since I last saw it? And while it can definitely feel like two movies jammed together tonally, I think it really holds up well.
posted by Carillon at 7:46 PM on September 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

The thing about time-travel movies is you can't think about them too hard.
Coincidence and deus ex machina is the name of the game.

Dennis Quaid is always reliable as the Everyman, Noah Emmerich could make a living playing nothing but best friends.

What's not to like?
posted by madajb at 1:07 AM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Noah Emmerich could make a living playing nothing but best friends

Lol I'm watching The Americans at the moment. Your statement is so very true.
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:38 AM on September 29, 2020

The thing about time-travel movies is you can't think about them too hard. Coincidence and deus ex machina is the name of the game.

It's not the coincidences or deus ex machina that I minded. It was things like -- when Caviezel gets his changed memory of hiding out under the table at his mother's wake, he's holding onto her necklace, but, didn't it get established that the killer was taking the necklaces of the nurses he was killing as souvenirs? And then for the ending, while it's great drama to have the killer fighting with father and son in the house in the two different timelines, and to have the special effect of the killer in the present watching his hand disappear after it got shotgunned off in the past, past-him getting that severe injury would have completely changed the course of events in his life which led him into the present-day fight with Caviezel (I mean, he would realistically have died from shock/blood loss, or been caught by cops following the blood trail of his stump or something, he wouldn't be lurking around the neighborhood for the next 30 years).

But, I don't really mind that the ending doesn't hold up to any scrutiny - it's emotionally satisfying, and I'll forgive a lot of nonsense logic for emotional satisfaction.
posted by oh yeah! at 12:40 PM on September 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I remember when it came out there was some aspect of the advertising that seemed hilarious and convinced me I didn't need to see this. I don't quite remember, but I must have seen this on a plane because I'm certain I never rented it. I also used to have free cable at my apartment, so maybe then, but anyway...I saw it on accident. It was not bad! I thought of it when I saw Interstellar.
posted by rhizome at 11:46 PM on September 29, 2020

Not sure of the ettiquette of FanFare, but fr those who hadn't noticed: A few years ago they made a TV series based on the movie. I've never seen the movie -- looks like I need to remedy that -- but I thought the TV show was good.
posted by martin q blank at 1:08 PM on October 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's also a very good 16-episode kdrama from 2016 "Signal" with a similar gimmick -- a present-day police detective on a cold-case squad communicates with another detective in 1986 via walkie-talkie, helping him to solve the cases before they become cold.
posted by oh yeah! at 1:50 PM on October 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

So... the sexy hipster cocktail bar waitress who is the first Nightingale victim Frank can't save? That's Mrs. Maisel's mom.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:12 PM on October 3, 2020

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