New Line // 2000 // 119 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // November 14th, 2000
What if you could reach back in time? What if you could change the past? What if it changed everything?
From New Line Pictures and bearing the Platinum Series designation is Gregory Hoblit's (Primal Fear, Fallen) film, Frequency).
The male equivalent of a chick flick, Frequency was a movie that got slightly lost at the box office and makes a welcome appearance here on DVD. The movie is a stirring combination of several genres that allows Frequency to end up being both moving and suspenseful. While the logic involved sometimes may prove to more than a little perplexing, it is best to check your brain at the door and enjoy the many charms that Frequency has to offer.
Once more New Line shows why it is the leader in the world of DVD by providing a high quality disc that is loaded with well chosen and executed special content, not to mention the best looking transfer in the field today.
Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), was a firefighter, loving husband and devoted father. In the tragedy that would haunt his son through his life, Frank died in the line of duty attempting to save the life of a person trapped in an abandoned warehouse.
Jump ahead 30 years and Frank's son John (James Caviezel), has recently discovered his father's prized ham radio setup. Feeling a bit of nostalgia John hooks up the radio and begins talking to a person who still believes it is 1969. '69 was the summer of the New York Mets and if John and his father shared anything it was their love for baseball and the amazing Mets.
If you see where this is going, give yourself a pat on the back. Due to some highly unusual sun spot activity father and son find themselves talking across time.
Changing history John alerts Frank of his imminent death. Within an instant John finds himself with new memories of his father and his childhood. Intense recollections he did not have before that now coexist with the memories of life without his father. Unfortunately when playing with time, ripples and changes are bound to occur. In this case a serial killer who is stalking New York City of the past is suddenly killing more people than in the original timeline. Knowing that somehow Frank living is endangering other people his son begins to relay information of the nurses who will die to his father in the past. This moves the movie into its second act as Frank begins his quest to save the lives of the young women who are the victims of the "Nightingale" killer.
The only problem is now the killer is aware of the efforts of both the father in the past and through the clues left through time by the father, the actions of the son here in the present.
Trouble comes to Frank because he is aware of the women dying and is present at the time of one of the nurse's death. This leaves Frank open to be framed by the real murderer and it also leaves Frank's wife Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), who just happens to also be a nurse, open to be stalked by the real killer.
With the ham radio broken, the now in custody Frank must attempt to prove his innocence to his best friend Satch DeLeon (Andre Braugher), a police detective who in present time is now the partner to John Sullivan.
Will Frank convince his friend that his not crazy or will he die for crimes he did not commit changing the timeline once more? Will their combined efforts of father and son be enough to save Julia or will history warp once more? Together through time can father and son stop a killer who has gotten away with his evil for 30 years?
Why is it that movies that are about fathers and sons seem to usually have a degree of the fantastic to them in order for them to be effective? Field of Dreams is certainly the first one to spring to mind and now we have Frequency>. Both require the son, now as an adult, to literally reach across time in order to communicate with the long lost father and both feature something of a wrong being corrected.
Frequency has a lot going on and its a credit to the sure handed direction of "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue" veteran Gregory Hoblit that the film never collapses down upon itself. Even when the movie had me shaking my head in disbelief, it still had my interest and my wonder as to what was coming next.
Hoblit delivers the mandated action sequences in taunt fashion but handles the sensitive aspects of Frequency in such an effective way that I will admit to a tear or two passing over my face. Frequency certainly is not afraid of pulling at the male heartstrings but does so in a fashion that is not too heavy handed or ponderous. As staged by Hoblit and cut with great skill by Editor David Rosenblum (The Insider).
While Toby Emmerich's screenplay may play fast and loose with science, not forgetting to mention common sense, he does write dialogue that rings both true and natural. He has written people that seem as real as you and me. People that are far from perfect and people that are just trying to deal with what life has given them. Emmerich has given these characters a "lived in" sense of experience that never loses focus which is all the more remarkable when you consider how fantastic Frequency gets. Finally Emmerich does a marvelous job of conveying all the pain and world-weary smiles that comes with memory and what could have been. With the case of Frequency, that sense of what could have been, becomes what does indeed happen and with it is a great deal of the movies power.
It also bear noting that one of the best things in Frequency is Michael Kamen's score. Kamen is a composer that I am not usually fond of but here he turns in some of his very best film work. Fitting Frequency like a glove, the music is red-blooded, manly action fare when it needs to be but also possesses a softer, gentler touch to the scoring that is essential in order for the movie to really work. Coming off the disappointment that was his work on X-Men it makes it much easier for me to go back and listen to his contributions on Metallica's "S & M" CD.
His music was so good that the feature I was dreading most on this disc, the half 5.1 isolated music track and half commentary discussion became one of the highlights of this release.
On the acting front there is some remarkable work turned in by leads Dennis Quaid (Any Given Sunday, Traffic), as Frank Sullivan and James Caviezel (Diggstown, The Thin Red Line) as his son John.
I use the term remarkable because the two manage to build and convey a true sense of their being a tangible relationship between these two men, even though the movie gives them only one scene where they are actually together.
Quaid in particular has not been this good in years. He is every inch the real life hero who, as he begins to understand and accept the gift his son has given him from the future, changes because that is what he needs to do. His sense of fear and confusion as he rolls to what he knows should be his death is well matched by the love that he feels towards the son he never really knew. All of the usual Quaid charm is present but is tempered by a screenplay that asks that he move beyond his standard bag of acting tricks and become a real person, rather than a smirking cardboard cutout. This is the Quaid that was so effective and showed such promise in such films as Everybody's All-American and The Right Stuff.
As his son John, James Caviezel follows up his career making turn in The Thin Red Line with a performance that is brooding, yet also childlike. As the alcoholic cop in the beginning of the film to the son who suddenly finds himself with new memories of childhood he never knew, Caviezel navigates his way through the tangled timelines with an ease that is a wonder to behold. John Sullivan is the only character in the film who has the ability to recall both the memories of what happened before things changed as well as the current events, as such Caviezel acts as the guide to what is happening for the audience. No matter how outlandish Frequency becomes with its science, Caviezel is always believable, thus keeping the movie grounded and firmly in place.
In the supporting roles Frequency offers up outstanding work in addition to the fine work of its leads.
In my book anything that features the great Andre Braugher (Primal Fear, Get On The Bus), is something worth watching. As the center character in the greatest cop show ever, "Homicide," he was its greatest asset and always impossible not to watch. Braugher is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest actors in the world right now and I cannot sing his praises enough. The only downside is that there is yet to be a big screen project that has learned how to feature this performer in the lead role that would show off all his many gifts. Still anytime spent watching him work is time well spent. It was also a great thrill to once more see Braugher as the cop with strong moral convictions roaming the inside of "the box" or the police questioning room. Braugher carries with him a deep kind of intensity that gives Frequency an added weight, as well as a link between the film's two different time frames.
As Frank's wife and John's mother Elizabeth Mitchell gives a performance that is real and sexy. While the age make-up used on her may have not been the best, she acts beyond it, showing how clearly she loves her son and how much pain she feels over both the loss of her husband and the effect that loss has had on her son's life. In a film full of very intense actors her work offers a lightness that meshes perfectly with her character. It is a pity Frequency did not do bigger box office because Mitchell is an actress who should be going places and deserves to be seen. Mitchell has an ease and a natural sense about her that the camera loves, with her limited screen time she gives Frequency a great deal more warmth than it would have had otherwise.
Changing gears to the DVD and in what I'm sure sounds like a broken record, New Line offers up another winner of a disc.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen and preserving the movie's 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Frequency has an image that I can't imagine being any better. Everything about the video pops with surprising detail and clarity. Colors are natural and true, with good saturation. Contrast is strong and the image has that wonderful quality of seeming very film-like. Black levels are on the money with zero evidence of edge enhancement and shadow detail has great delineation. It almost goes without saying that the source material is pristine and in the crowded field on video transfers, once more New Line proves themselves to be king of the hill.
On the sound end of things, Frequency is no less impressive. A great "showoff" mix, the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack literally rocks the house. For a film that has such a serious and somber tone, Frequency packs quite the audio punch. The mix is very aggressive, especially with its usage of the rear surrounds and there is terrific channel separation that makes this a movie that envelops the entire room. The bass is very present and gives the experience a tangible rumble on the low end. Yet in spite of this, the sound never comes off as forced or showy, rather it has great space and breadth. Background distortion is nonexistent; everything is well mixed and clearly heard, making this another outstanding job turned in by the folks at New Line.
I have written it before and will write it once more, New Line packs more material in their Platinum Series discs at such an appealing price point that they put everyone else in the DVD world to shame. To make the mix sweeter, this content is almost always well produced and clearly thought out. Rather than regurgitate fluff promotional material, New Line produces content that highlights the film at hand, giving the viewer a more complete experience. The only company out there that approaches New Line in both high quality transfers and extra content on a consistent basis is Criterion but at a much higher price point.
It is discs like Frequency that got most of us into DVD in the first place.
In what is fast approaching a signature calling card, New Line offers up three different commentary tracks.
The first one is with Director Gregory Hoblit. Hoblit is well prepared and pretty informative. As is the case in most single person commentaries there are gaps in the discussion but Hoblit offers a good amount of detail on the film and its production. The track is a little on the dry side but it certainly answers most of the questions I had on the actual making of the movie.
Next up is Writer Toby Emmerich and his brother, Actor Noah Emmerich. As is to be expected this discussion is somewhat more relaxed and informal. The talk is mostly dominated by Toby Emmerich and what details were not covered by Hoblit are addressed here. While this track is not as focused as Hoblit's it is worth listening to.
Once more the biggest surprise of the commentaries was the combination of isolated music score and talk with Composer Michael Kamen. Kamen is quite the energetic speaker and while his talk may sometimes ramble, it is quite entertaining and is probably the most fun of the three tracks. Hats off to New Line for the care they show to those of us who enjoy film music.
As a true space and science geek, I really enjoyed the feature New Line called "The Science Behind Frequency." Some may well find it on the boring side but I certainly got into it and it is a good example of how New Line thinks outside the box as it regards to special content.
The disc includes four deleted scenes and while it is easy to see why they were removed, their presence is appreciated. This being New Line, the snipped material is shown in anamorphic widescreen and looks as good as most of the film proper.
Another feature on Frequency that has serious DVD cool factor is the Fact and Trivia subtitle track. The track throws scientific information, tidbits about the cast and the crew, as well as trivia about the film's various eras at such a quick pace that it is sometimes difficult to keep up but still remains a lot of fun. A great feature and something I hope to see more of.
There is also a supplement called Conceptual And Solar Gallery. Rather than being series of still images of space and artwork, it is instead a multi-angle dissection of Frequency's opening credits sequence. Another worthwhile feature.
The disc also has the movie's theatrical trailer, again in anamorphic widescreen and several cool sounding DVD-ROM features that make me wish I had a newer computer.
Frequency is the movie for guys who want revenge on their girlfriend's for making them sit through the tragedy-of-the-week movies on the weepy chick network, Lifetime. Sure the film is somewhat sappy and manipulative but its sappy and manipulative in a manly way dammit!
There are certain parts of Frequency that defy belief and are difficult to follow but if these things bother anyone they are not really getting the movie to begin with. This is a check-your-logic at the front door kind of movie, so sit back and enjoy.
As a disc, it's New Line so there are no complaints there.
Frequency is that rarest of dramatic action movies, it has heart and its not afraid to wear that organ on its sleeve. A movie men can feel good about crying at and one we can point to our significant to show them that we have feelings as deep as theirs. It has smart writing, inventive direction, great set pieces and some really good acting. Just please don't ask us to take the garbage out afterwards please.
The DVD is loaded with extra features, has reference level picture and sound plus is priced to own. All of that earn New Line's Frequency the highest of marks and make it a disc well worth owning.
All charges against Frequency are dismissed. While this court has minor reservations with the convoluted nature of the plot, they are a passing annoyance.
If the bailiff will bring me some tissues to wipe my jaded old eyes, I will adjourn this courtroom and return to my purgatory in the suburbs. Until next time, this case is dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2000 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary One with Director Gregory Hoblit
* Commentary Two with Writer Toby Emmerich and Actor Noah Emmerich
* 5.1 Isolated Music Score and Commentary Three with Composer Michael Kamen
* Fact and Trivia Subtitle Track
* Deleted Scenes
* The Science Behind Frequency Documentary
* Theatrical Trailer
* Conceptual and Solar Galleries
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* DVD-ROM features