John Q (2002) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, Kimberly Elise, James Woods, Ray Liotta, Anne Heche, Eddie Griffin, David Thornton, Shawn Hatosy, Laura Harring, Troy Winbush, Daniel E. Smith, Jay Leno (cameo), Gloria Allred (cameo), Larry King (cameo), Arianna Huffington (cameo), Ted Demme (cameo), Nas (cameo), Bill Maher (cameo)
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Screenplay: James Kearns
Review published February 17, 2002
Whenever a movie comes out with an important message, there is a tendency among viewers to want to like the film because of that message (provided they agree with it) and are willing to put plausibility aside for the sake of the argument presented. However, John Q presents quite a difficulty, because the message has resonance but the movie that spotlights it is seriously flawed. While I support the point that there is a problem in the health care industry that would allow a person to die because of a lack of insurance, that message is delivered with the finesse of a jackhammer in John Q. This is one case where it's justified to blame the messenger for the bad feelings you may have.
Denzel Washington (Training Day, Remember the Titans) plays John Quincy Archibald, a husband and father trying desperately to make ends meet but just always seeming to fall short with cash and unable to pay all of the bills. Things get even worse when John's son Michael has a seizure as a result of an enlarged heart. When John's insurance won't cover the cost of the heart transplant the boy needs to survive, it's either raise the money himself or watch his son die in short order. John tries everything he can, but the hospital's board grows impatient and releases the boy despite John's intentions, and John refuses to take no for an answer. Armed with a gun, John takes Michael's doctor and some others in the ER hostage, refusing to give up until his son gets put on the waiting list for the transplant.
Although the acting by Washington is as superb as you'd expect, his performance is just not enough to carry this poorly developed and contrived film into the realm of believability. The film starts off its plan of manipulation by clever casting of it's one-dimensional characters. It's certainly easy to take John's side since we like Denzel (usually the good guy) as an actor and personality, his wife is loyal to the death, and his son evokes nothing but lovable cuteness. Then throw in a cast of actors who are known for playing connivers or egotists, such as James Woods (usually a bad guy) as the schmoozy doctor, Anne Heche (incredibly annoying) as the ambitious hospital administrator, and Ray Liotta (usually a bad guy) as the politically-minded chief of police . And who would play the hostage negotiator and sole man on the police force on John's side than Robert Duvall, another actor we have high opinions of?
Now that John and family are the only sympathetic people in the film, let's pour on more syrup on the film with the fact that the public is all on his side as well, including almost all of the hostages. Follow up each scene with contrivance after contrivance to further give voice to the movie's underlying preachy nature, and if you're going to preach, you might as well go the distance and wrap John and his family up as God-fearing folk who go to church every Sunday and take time out to pray for a miracle in every scene. Had I a sharp object at hand, I might have had inclination to offer up my heart up for people who are far honorable, brave, noble and good than I ever could be.
In the end, John Q is completely manufactured hogwash -- an expensive piece of pure propaganda disguised as entertainment with a message that could have been compelling had the events seemed remotely close to what might happen in reality. However, that message is one that practically preaches to the choir, as who among us really would want to support a system that allows children to die due to a lack of adequate insurance?
John Q is a film that isn't going to change an opinion out there regarding the health care industry so much as it is a call for people to take up arms whenever they feel abused by the system, and although not intending to, the message that is ultimately delivered will probably deliver more harm than good.
©2002 Vince Leo