John Q. Archibald (Denzel Wahsington) is a factory worker with his job disappearing, a wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) and a young son Mike (Daniel E. Smith) – who is diagnosed with a massive heart that threatens to kill him immediately unless he gets a heart transplant. But John’s workplace insurance no longer covers him for that huge expense and in a desperate last option, he takes the hospital’s emergency room hostage, trying to force heart surgeon Dr Turner (James Woods) and hospital boss Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche) into saving his son’s life. At any cost – except money.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I hope this film has the desired effect in triggering the creation of a national health scheme in America, because if it doesn’t, it’ll have been such a huge waste. It’s very earnest intentions have crippled it as an effective drama, sucking in the endless talents of all involved, from the outstanding Denzel to the smallest supports. It would pass as an undergraduate production – a very expensive one. The script is woefully inadequate for the task, as if written by using a glumpy screenplay-for-beginners computer program to build its structure, and far too wasteful in the process. Economy has been sacrificed for plodding exposition, yet characterisations are dangerously thin. Everything is poured into the heartbreaking construct of an innocent, loveable, would-be body builder little boy from a poor working class family (and black, to boot) with no-one to help…with mum and dad having to sell everything in an extended garage sale ($20 for their colour tv set being the ultimate humiliation) … etc … etc. The flaws are endless: why would you cast one of the most charismatic actors as a hopeless, hapless, aimless, almost-jobless blue collar worker? Conversely, why write Denzel such a character? There are other elements that defy creative logic but it would spoil the film to discuss them. Suffice to say, its merely socio-political propaganda, which is never great cinema. There is however, one redeeming element in the film. A throwaway line by a five-second cameo character, who blames Americans themselves for the lack of a national health service to cover such situations, saying they were the ones who weren’t prepared to pay more in taxes to pay for it. I hope US audiences take that to heart (pardon the pun).
Review by Louise Keller:
A hard-hitting drama raising issues about the American medical system and a father’s plight, John Q is powerful, moving and very manipulative. The film is everything you expect – a top Hollywood cast headed by Denzel Washington, slick production values, a heartbreaking central story with plenty of tension and a big orchestral score that swells at appropriate moments, as we wait to see whether John Q’s son will be put on the donor’s list. I’m sorry if this sounds rather cynical, but so many good elements are scattered into the trash by a heavy-handed script and direction. It’s because of this that the real pathos of the film is almost lost – the issue of hospital care and who can afford to be treated. But, what is good is very, very good… and it’s easy to get involved in the story because we like the characters. Washington is totally convincing as the devoted father prepared to go to any lengths for his son and the family relationship established endears us to them all. Kimberly Elise is warm and emotional as loving wife and mother while Daniel E. Smith is terrific as Mike – not too cute, but has plenty of charm. The rest of the cast reads like a top hand of cards laid out on the table - ace after ace. Robert Duvall’s worn, experienced but very human police chief; Ray Liotta’s arrogant all-for-show Chief of Police ‘this is an election year’; James Wood’s heart surgeon who seems to have lost his heart along the way. The only unreal character is the hospital registrar, played icily by Anne Heche: were the filmmakers so insecure that we would be sympathetic to John Q’s drastic action had the registrar been a believable, tough bureaucrat? The dig at the media is a lovely piece – the TV talk host only cares about his appearance and his ratings pushes through the crowd, murmuring ‘excuse me, don’t touch me… how’s my hair?’ It’s all about ego and getting the story – and the glory. There are moments that are extraordinary moving and it is probably well advised to take a couple of tissues. But did we really need to see the heart surgery, and the final scene which puts a capital C into the word contrived could have been Cut. See it for the cast.
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JOHN Q (M)
CAST: Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Kimberly Elise, Shawn Hatosy and Ray Liotta
PRODUCER: Mark Burg, Oren Koules
DIRECTOR: Nick Cassavetes
SCRIPT: James Kearns
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rogier Stoffers NSC
EDITOR: Dede Allen ACE
MUSIC: Aaron Zigman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stefania Cella
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 2, 2002 (Advance screenings April 26,27, 28)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertaiment
VIDEO RELEASE: November 27, 2002