A rare atmospheric phenomenon allows a New York City firefighter to communicate with his son 30 years in the future via HAM radio. The son uses this opportunity to warn the father of his impending death in a warehouse fire, and manages to save his 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. The two men must now work together, 30 years apart, to find the murderer before he strikes so that they can change history--again.
Directed by: Gregory Hoblit
. Starring: Dennis Quaid
, Jim Caviezel
, Shawn Doyle
, Elizabeth Mitchell
, Andre Braugher
, Noah Emmerich
, Melissa Errico
, Daniel Henson
, Jordan Bridges
, Stephen Joffe
, Jack McCormack
, Peter MacNeill
, Michael Cera
. Music by: Michael Kamen
I have read a few of other viewer comments and am taken aback by people getting upset about the central idea behind the time travel communication (the aurora borealis lets Frank Sullivan's ham radio in 1969 communicate with his son John Sullivan (using the same ham radio in the same house) in 1999). People - it's a PLOT DEVICE - get over it! It's just there to get the story started and to add drama. When the writers put in a plot device like this, that's OK - you have to "willingly suspend your disbelief". What counts next is, are the writers being internally consistent with the rules they have set up and the conditions in the movie? In "Frequency", yes, they are. (Other movies aren't so good about this - don't get me started about "Independence Day", where Jeff Goldblum is able to hack into the alien ship's computer system - apparently the aliens use Microsoft Windows too! Come on! They're aliens!)
The rules of the plot are that there is the ham radio communication between eras; that it's October 11, 1969 on one end and October 11, 1999, on the other end, and that the two eras are running simultaneously (in a sense). That is, if Frank Sullivan (the father)spends 7-11 p.m. on Oct. 11 in 1969 talking with John Sullivan (his son), this happened for John at 7-11 p.m. on Oct 11, 1999. If something is changed in 1969 at 3:00 p.m. based on information sent from 1999, then the world of 1999 doesn't "update" till 3:00 p.m. of that same date in 1999. This is set up and reinforced by the good editing, constantly flashing back between one era and the next. So the writers set up these groundrules, use them as a basis, and then go into a very moving tale of father-son love, growing up, redemption, and second chances.
I found the contact between the two men very believable. At first they're just chatting together on the radio; Frank says something about "You think the Mets will win Game One of the Series tomorrow?" John, of course, knows that the Mets lost Game One because it was 30 years ago for him, and makes some comment about that. ("It was all over after Buford's homer in the second inning.") Then, of course, the ham radio loses contact. But the next night, Frank asks John, "How'd you know about Buford's homer?" And John says, "It wasn't hard, buddy, it was 30 years ago." Then John gets more information (Frank's name, call letters, etc) and realizes who he is talking to. He desperately wants to warn his father about Frank's upcoming death in the warehouse fire which is going to happen tomorrow. But Frank doesn't want to listen, thinks John is crazy or a stalker or something - just can't believe it. John says "If you had just gone the other way in the fire you would have gotten out - if you had just gone the other way!" Then, of course, the ham radio stops working.
Frank is pensive the next day, because everything so far has turned out as John has said it would (Al Weis hits a game-winning RBI in the 9th)and he is thinking, "Is this guy for real? Might I be going to die today?" When the climactic moment in the fire comes, Frank does go the other way, and saves his own life. John is sitting in a bar drinking with his friends in memory of his father, 30 years after his death. There is a very effective sequence where Frank is making his decision and escaping from the fire, and John is in the bar and getting new memories of a life where Frank lived on. I particularly like the intercutting where John drops his glass in the bar (in slo-mo), Frank has thrown his fireman's hat out of a window and that is falling (in slo-mo), and Frank and the person he saved from the fire are going down a warehouse chute (in slo-mo)away from the fire, into the river. The editors cut from shot to shot with very moving music from Michael Kamen, the composer, here. At the end of the scene, Frank is outside the warehouse watching it burn and realizing he is alive! and that this guy on the radio is for real; John is in the bar with his friends realizing that his father didn't die in a fire 30 years ago, but died from lung cancer 10 years ago, and John has memories from both of these timelines.
That evening, Frank comes home, and talks to John. He realizes that hey, this is not a fake, it's really my son from the future (wow!)and they have a long talk together. This, to me, was the best part of the film. In the beginning of the movie, John Sullivan is a bitter, jaded, cigarette-smoking alcoholic cop who is breaking up with his girlfriend. As he talks whis father, you can see him smoothing out old bitternesses and fears. His father is there for him now and that makes all the difference. You see the two of them chatting about various topics, sort of "guy talk" that is a coverup for their deep joy in being able to communicate with each other. At the end of the scene, Frank is able to say, "I love you, son", and John responds, "I love you too, Dad. I've missed you so much!" and Frank knows what he meansmeant to his son.
Of course, up to this point is only half the movie, so they still have to continue the plot with the serial nurse killer stuff. That was well-written and a good thriller, but to me, not as moving as just the quiet conversation between the two men on the ham radio, the father and the son connecting.
Advice to the viewer: be sure to check on EVERYTHING in the background - photographs (who's in it right now? Is Dad missing? Is Mom missing? Is the dog missing?); newspaper headlines ("Fireman Dies In Warehouse Fire" is changed to "Fireman Saves Runaway From Warehouse Fire"); radio and TV commentary (note that the physics professor talking about the aurora borealis is on the Dick Cavett show in both 1969 and 1999!) and even the decor of the house in 1999. At first, when John's father died 30 years ago and his mother is living in an apartment somewhere, it's a rather gloomy cop dwelling. Then John changes the past & his father didn't die; John comes home from work, and notices that the lamps have changed, things look different. Next, it turns out that his mother has died in 1969, and again the house looks more bachelor-ish and less like a woman has done stuff to it. At the end, (SPOILER WARNING) in the future where both his parents lived, there is a major morph, and things look shipshape, tidy, and well-decorated. This is the kind of thing that you have to see the movie a few times to pick up on. It's also not always obvious due to camera angles, editing, etc.
The ending is a major cop-out (no pun intended) in terms of being internally consistent to the rules that were set up. (SPOILER WARNING) In 1969, Frank has managed to expose Jack Shepard as the serial killer, so Jack comes to Frank's house to kill him and his family. In 1999, "before" Frank exposes Jack Shepard, John Sullivan meets Jack Shepard in a bar and tells Jack that he knows that Jack is the serial killer. So now Jack Shepard in 1999 is coming to the house to kill John. There is very effective and exciting intercutting between the two confrontations (Frank vs Jack, John vs Jack 30 years later) but if you think about it, it doesn't hold water. Frank shoots Jack in 1969, (shoots off Jack's right hand), and then you're supposed to believe that a one-handed ex-cop murderer fugitive from justice was able to hang around for 30 years to come and mess with John? If you listen to the director's commentary on the DVD, the director does make note of this and suggested a different, internally consistent ending be filmed. However, apparently test audiences reacted so positively to the current ending (SPOILER WARNING) (Frank is still alive in 1999, comes in and blows away Jack Shepard with his shotgun) that the other ending was never filmed. I have to admit that the ending as it is right now, is pretty satisfying emotionally, though.
I'm a sucker for a happy ending and this movie does have one (SPOILER WARNING): It's a neighborhood softball game in Queens. Frank is still there, alive and well, having neither died of lung cancer or in a fire; Julia (Frank's wife) is also there, happy and healthy; John gets a game-winning RBI hit to knock in his father; John's wife (his girlfriend that he broke up with at the beginning of the movie in his "alternate history") is there with their son; Frank has quit smoking, John either never started smoking or quit smoking, and nobody is an alcholic; life is good.
I thought it was a tightly edited movie as well; John and Frank talk on the ham radio; Julia, John-as-a-6-year-old, and John's friend Gordo-as-a-6-year-old also talk on the ham, but the only one who knows that this is the future talking, is Frank. The writers could have had it that other people know, but they maintained the dramatic tension by having it be just Frank and John talking to each other. (Frank does tell his cop friend Satch, but Satch doesn't believe him and the radio is broken so Satch can't talk with the 1999 John).
I'm the kind of person that asks hypothetical questions about movies, so now I'm wondering, If Frank comes in in 1999 and saves his son John, and the ham radio is still active, does Frank in 1999 talk to himself in 1969? Does he tell himself, "Hey, we've gotta be here at this date and time to save John - write it down in your dayplanner?" What would it be like, talking to your future self, anyway? Did Frank in 1969 ever tell Julia (his wife) about his conversations with their future son? As Frank lives through 1969-1999, does he ever talk to young John about talking with the 1999 John? Or does he just know that he can't talk about all this till it happens for John in 1999? (He does know some things that will happen to John - e.g., John blows his arm out, can't be a baseball player, goes to the police academy, becomes a cop.) At the end of the movie with all the changes that have been made in John's life, does he have three sets of memories? (one with Frank dying in 1969, one with Frank living and Julia dying in 1969, and one with both of his parents living through to the present day). Or does the current reality gradually supersede the "old" memories and the old memories fade away? Or do they remain? (hey, in my previous life, I was a single, alcoholic, bitter, jaded cop and now I have a family)?
I guess that both Frank and John could look at it this way: We each came close to death and cheated it by an amazing set of coincidences; let's make the most of the life we have left. In the end, that's good advice for all of us.
Review by cmlee-2 from the Internet Movie Database.