Give a father no options and you leave him no choice.
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Screenplay: James Kearns
Denzel Washington: John Q. Archibald
Robert Duvall: Grimes
James Woods: Dr. Turner
Anne Heche Rebecca Payne
Eddie Griffin: Lester
Kimberly Elise: Denise Archibald
Shawn Hatosy: Mitch
Ray Liotta: Police Chief Monro
Daniel E. Smith: Mike Archibald
Ethan Suplee: Max
Kevin Connolly: Steve Maguire
Paul Johansson: Tuck Lampley
Heather Wahlquist: Julie
Troy Beyer: Miriam
Obba Babatundé: Sgt. Moody
John Q. is the story of a working class father led to an act of desperation in order to save his son's life. When ten year-old Mike collapses during a baseball game, he is rushed to the hospital by his parents only to find out that his heart is useless and that he requires a transplant. John and Denise Archibald are determined to save their son's life, but are unable to find the financial assistance they need in order to pay for the expensive procedure. John finds that his insurance provider has been changed by his long standing employer and no longer covers surgery of such a magnitude.
The family finds itself in a tricky, yet not unheard of situation. They are too poor to receive full health insurance from their employers, but not poor enough to receive assistance from the government. The people at the hospital, doctors and administrators, show little sympathy and are more than willing to allow nature take its course if the Archibald's do not pay for the $ 250 000 operation up front.
Like any man who loves his child, John does everything in his power to find the money and tries every avenue open to him to get assistance. Despite raising the majority of the down payment, the hospital decides to release Mike anyway, fearing non payment. John, feeling he has no other option, takes a handful of people in the ER hostage and demands that his son's name be placed on the top of the organ recipient list. This act turns in a national media event and…
I won't tell you the end.
John Q. is a textbook Hollywood drama. Most of the characters are stereotypes and you can swear you have seen many of the scenes in other movies of the same type. We have the smarmy TV host (Paul Johansson), the cold and unfeeling hospital administrator (Anne Heche), the rich and sleazy cardiac surgeon (James Woods) and the fast talking, wise cracking hoodlum (Eddie Griffin). We also have the typical clash of personalities between the chief of police (Ray Liotta) and the head of the police department (Robert Duvall). I need go no further. Most of the dialogue is, likewise, generally uninspired and even at times, embarrassingly bad and predictable.
This is Hollywood though and in exchange for originality and art, you get more than your fair share of drama and action. The acting is generally strong and the movie is well put together and nothing short of entertaining. As a blockbuster, this movie gets my two thumbs up and it does have one saving grace: its lead actor.
If you ever doubted that Denzel Washington is an actor of the most incredible talent, skill and magnitude, doubt no more. The only "real" thing in this film, is the performance given by Washington. Like Wil Smith in Ali, Washington gives this film some substance. His performance is simply astounding. The actor spent 3 months working at a factory prior to filming, even though only a handful of scenes take place on location.
John Q. is the unlikely hero. He is not used to violence or such acts of taking control and demanding action. He is an average Joe. He fumbles with the gun he uses to take hostages and he doesn't even disable all the cameras to the ER. He is nothing short of unprofessional. His criminal actions are clearly and obviously not intended to hurt or victimize anyone, but stem from his own desperation and frustration. We might not agree with him, but we can surely sympathize with him.
It is worth going to see John Q. for this performance alone, since even in the light of all the other failures of this movie, he not only rescues it, but gives us a character that is endearing and real. Perhaps the creators intended to make a social statement about the state of health care (or lack thereof) in the US, but the script is too fluff to be taken seriously as any such thing. Instead, what we inadvertently get is a protagonist that is human.
My only hope for Denzel Washington is that he is more discerning with future roles, using his talents in films more worthy of his skills.