Cinemalphabet: F is for Frequency (2000)
One of the reasons I do Cinemalphabet is to pay homage to movies that are often overlooked because they aren’t cutting edge or overly flashy. These films are the cinema equivalent to homemade mac and cheese and regardless of what critics or movie snobs think, these films deserve to be analyzed on their own merits and treasured. Frequency is such a film. Frequency achieves the emotionality attempted in the flashier Contact with wonderfully engaging performances from its leads Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel and the terminally underused Elizabeth Mitchell.
Successfully blending sci-fi elements with serial killer plot (that isn’t cheesy), what emerges is a thoughtful meditation on the relationship between a father and the son. Frequency moves back and forth between 1969 and 1999, via a solar event making it possible for Frank Sullivan (Quaid) and his adult son John Sullivan (Caviezel) to talk to each other in their respective eras by use of a HAM radio. I know, it totally sounds silly, and in a way it is. Silly, but also sweet, tapping into that place inside each of us wishing we could have one last conversation with someone who is no longer with us.
Dennis Quaid is well cast in a role which has him jettisoning his trademark bastardy charm for something closer in tempo to The Rookie (one of my favorite Quaid performances) and it doesn’t feel forced or off. Considering Quaid gave a sharp performance playing a sleazy lawyer in Traffic, that same year, his work in Frequency feels even more impressive. Frank Sullivan, a devoted father/loving husband/hardworking firefighter, is a trope, but Quaid manages to find something new to say about this particularly cinematic archetype. Some of it is costuming, but a large part is his mannerisms, which evoke the everymanness of his character without being showy. Similar to Pine and Washington in Unstoppable.
In contrast, Jim Caviezel adds some pep to his usual lethargic performances. While I enjoy the actor’s work (that I’ve seen) sometimes I think he’s too much like Billy Cruddup in certain roles and personally, it’s not a style of acting I like to watch. That said, I understand why it’s sometimes necessary to craft characters in that manner. Fortunately, he’s spunky here as a cop and I like the chemistry Caviezel has with Quaid and with Elizabeth Mitchell.
Frequency, despite being a warm, engaging and unapologetically sentimental film also plays loose and silly with sci-fi time travel conventions and that might prove bothersome to folks who like their pop culture concerning itself with time travel to be a little more thoughtful. There are some plot points and subplots that are utterly fatuous, adding nothing to the film except extend its running time. That said, the emotional and narrative payoff are still pretty satisfying and call back to a time when it was okay for movies to resolve themselves neatly, sweetly and without judgment.