How refreshing to sit through a movie that so perfectly suspends disbelief you sit there with wide eyed wonderment. You know what you’re watching is totally implausible, yet it has been so skillfully executed you not only accept it, you want it to be true.

frequency“Frequency” is that film, a little gem of a thriller that takes a lot of risks. The screenplay by Toby Emmerich goes out on several limbs, asking us to believe that two people 30 years apart can communicate over a ham radio. Not just two people, but a grown up son and the fireman father he lost 30 years ago.

What sounds like an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone” emerges as a touching family drama about a father and son using the opportunity of a lifetime to make their family whole again. It’s a terrific premise. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to reach back in time and change a moment that altered our lives.

That’s what New York cop John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) gets when he uncovers his father’s old ham radio. At the insistence of his best friend’s son, John sets up the radio. The effort proves disappointing, but after his friend leaves, John receives a signal.

Even though we already know who is on the other end, director Gregory Hoblit only shows us bits and pieces of the mysterious sender. He’s not trying to trick us. We know the sender is John’s father Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid). Hoblit still manages to create expectation because we are waiting for John to catch on.

When that revelation comes, it still packs a punch. John and Frank seem more surprised to be talking to each other than the audience, because we want to believe it. How emotional to be able to see a father and son reach out to each other through time. Once the two men come to grips with their link, John decides to use it to change the past.

Of course John forgets the basic rule of time travel: anything you change in the past can affect the future. We know the rule, yet we’re helpless to say or do anything as John tells his father how to avoid dying in a fire the next day. John may gain a father, but his actions turn the rest of his life upside down.

The serial killer John has been tracking is now responsible for several more deaths, now including his mother. John must rely on his father to find the killer before he strikes, exchanging information and clues through some clever and unique methods. I especially liked how the writer managed to pass along a vital piece of evidence between the two. A lot of thought went into the process, and it shows.

Hoblit and writer Emmerich have done a splendid job of mixing several genres into a palatable hybrid. “Frequency” never goes where you expect it to, and that’s because it’s unlike anything you have seen before. It has elements of classic thrillers, fanciful science-fiction and satisfying human drama. Pulling off one of these genres is tough enough, but to be able to juggle all three without ever fumbling is amazing.

It helps that the filmmakers put all of this out there with feeling the need to explain it. There are references to sun spots and Northern lights, but the script never wastes precious time trying to make sense out of it. Instead, they set up the premise and allow the characters to deal with the ramifications.

The actors are very persuasive. Dennis Quaid becomes the kind of father any son would risk changing the course of time to save. Quaid always excels as a father-type, and you can see a real connection between him and the actor that plays his young son. He’s rugged and heroic, the sort of man who feels equally comfortable staring down a fire or singing along with Elvis while dancing with his wife in the kitchen.

Jim Caviezel is equally earnest as his grown up son John. Caviezel is also ruggedly handsome, a perfect match to play Quaid’s son. Caviezel really shines during the conversations with his father. Caviezel perfectly captures the loss and then hope of a man looking for redemption in his life. His girlfriend has walked out on their six year relationship, and he desperately needs a father’s point of view. That’s why we become as excited as John when he finally gets that opportunity. We want him to be happy.

The supporting cast is extremely vital in helping maintain the illusion. Total conviction is the key. One weak link and the house of cards comes tumbling down. There isn’t one. Andre Braugher is excellent as John’s partner and a former friend of his father. Braugher has one of the toughest roles in the film, playing the best friend who for professional reasons must remain skeptical. In less competent hands it would seems like a cliche.

Elizabeth Mitchell is exquisite as Julia Sullivan, loving wife and mother. She’s such a sweet, unassuming person, we’re just as shocked as John to learn that his heroic lifeline to his father cost his mother her life. Mitchell plays Julia as nothing less than a Saint. Noah Emmerich does the best bud thing better than anyone around, and extends his “Truman Show” goodwill even farther.

With “Primal Fear” and “Fallen,” director Greg Hoblit showed his ability to tackle tricky subject matter without making it look tricky. His accomplishment with “Frequency” is no less notable. He finds the emotional core of the story and then allows everything to revolve around it. That way, no matter how absurd things become, they’re grounded in emotional truth.

“Frequency” is Toby Emmerich’s first screenplay, and I hope to see more from him. He’s very expressive and attentive. His characters sound like people we know, or could have known. His attention to little human details is one of the major strengths of the film.

At times, “Frequency” reminded me of Nicholas Meyer’s “Time After Time.” Both films deal with a man’s decision to tweak time in order to save someone he loves. The thought that love has the ability to transcend time and space is a comforting one. “Frequency” leaves you with plenty to think about, but it also entertains on a grand scale.


Smart script, performances and direction on same Frequency


Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Andre Braugher, Elizabeth Mitchell, Noah Emmerich, Shawn Doyle in a film directed by Greg Hoblit. Rated PG-13. 117 Minutes.


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