Every moment, we face a thousand seemingly inconsequential choices that can have the most profound impact on our lives and those around us. In “Frequency,” a fireman gets a message from his son, 30 years in the future, to turn the other way when he is trying to escape an upcoming fire. That night, in 1969, when the father takes another exit from a burning warehouse, we see the policeman in the present as his mind fills up with 20 more years of memories of life with his dad.
As the movie begins, John (James Caviezel), the policeman, is deeply sad in a way that isolates him even from his wife, and we see that this relates to the loss of his father. When he is able to talk to Frank (Dennis Quaid) over his old ham radio, his yearning for a way to express his feelings is truly touching, as is his joy in having had his father alive for 20 more years. But in changing history, John and Frank have set into motion a chain of events that will result in an even deeper tragedy. John finds himself even more bitter and devastated, because his father’s survival left his mother in a location that led to her being the victim of a serial killer.
The story turns into a tense mystery-thriller as the policeman and the fireman, thirty years apart, try to find the killer before he can find John’s mother (Elizabeth Mitchell). As every event in 1969 has ripple effects into 1999, only John can remember all of the parallel strands. Old newspaper clippings change before his eyes and events from 30 years before change the way he sees the world in the present. When his father was killed in a fire, he was so hard to live with that his wife left him. When his father survived but his mother was murdered, he was so unable to open himself up to another person that he never married. Like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” John gets to see how one person can make all the difference.
Caviezel perfectly conveys John’s sense of loss and his integrity, subtly showing us how each set of experiences affected his behavior and his life in a different way. His talks with Frank are very moving. Quaid has his best role since “The Big Easy,” and gets a chance to let us see his enormous charm in the character’s devotion to his family and his job. Mitchell is lovely, warm, and, in a scene with André Braugher as Frank’s policeman friend, as strong and determined as her husband and son.
It does get pretty confusing. This is one of those movies where the audience walks out saying things like, “Wait a minute! You mean when the guy came down the stairs it meant….?” “How did that other guy get there?” But it is good enough that like “The Sixth Sense,” it may attract a lot of second-time viewers just to straighten it all out. Warning, though: it has some of the worst old-age make-up ever.
Parents should know that there are some very tense scenes, with characters in peril, and that there are some grisly shots of dead bodies. A character drinks to anesthetize sorrow. There is a lot of smoking, though the movie makes it clear that smoking leads to lung cancer.
Families who watch this movie should talk about the interconnectedness of everything we do – and don’t do. Talk about the way that John and Frank made their talks about baseball into a way for them to feel close to one another. Watching this movie can be a good opportunity to talk about how we tend to take precious family connections for granted until they are gone, and to ask family members what they would say or ask if they had a chance to talk to someone close to them who has died. It can also be a good opportunity to remind us to say those things now, while we can.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another drama in which a father and son reach out to each other across the time-space continuum, “Field of Dreams.”