Wednesday 9 November 2011

Movie Review: Frequency (2000)

A father-son communications drama bridging a 30 year time gap, Frequency has some poignant moments and earnest performances. But the intrusion of a maniac murderer disrupts the quiet power of the narrative and steers the film towards the crowded channel of the routine.

In 1969, Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid) is a self-confident New York fire-fighter, taking risks with wild abandon to save lives, but always returning home unscathed to his wife Jules (Elizabeth Mitchell), a nurse, and their young son John. After one daring fire rescue mission, an unusual aurora borealis takes hold over Frank's house.

In 1999, John (James Caviezel), now a cop, is heartbroken as he breaks-up with his girlfriend (Melissa Errico). The northern lights once again settle in the sky, as John stumbles upon his father's old ham radio set. Incredibly, John and Frank are soon communicating over the airwaves, separated by 30 years. John starts helping Frank to alter the course of history, forewarning him to avoid the actions that led to Frank's original death in a fire. But  for every action there is a reaction, and the change in the historical sequence of events prolongs the killing spree of a mass murderer who targets nurses. Inevitably, the lives of Frank, Jules and John are threatened.

Director Gregory Hoblit mixes the right amounts of magic and pathos into the Toby Emmerich script, at least for the first two thirds of the movie. The northern lights hovering in the sky; the vintage ham radio set; the 1969 baseball World Series nostalgia; the stoic pride of police officers and fire fighters; and Quaid's boyishly heroic charms are deployed in satisfying measures to emphasize the timeless value of shared communication between father and son. John and Frank exchange stories, emotions and advice across a 30 year gap, highlighting how the passage of time can sharply define the edges of what matters.

That Frequency takes a turn towards the tired territory of catch-a-murderer-on-the-loose and then hurtles towards an action movie climax displays a mis-guided lack of conviction in the strength of the core material. The final 40 minutes transition from the unique to the conventional, as Frank attempts to stop a serial killer only to become a suspect himself. The film then fully embraces meekness by selecting the giddiest and most sugary of conclusions, rather than looking for any of life's challenging subtleties.

Frequency has it's heart in the right place, but cheaply sells it's soul by settling for a stock ending.

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