Anthony's Film Review

John Q (2002)

Denzel Washington steals the spotlight in this riveting medical drama...

The healthcare system in America is far from perfect. Because there are multiple public and private options for health insurance, not all of those options are equal in quality and cost, and plenty are expensive to begin with, it is possible for people to slip through the cracks and end up uninsured. This can become a nightmare scenario if a health emergency comes up, because an inability to pay is essentially an inability to live. Or worse, a person can have health insurance, but its policy would not cover certain medical services. This, too, can become a nightmare scenario, when a necessary lifesaving treatment isn't covered. Either way, this conflict between money and health is a troubling moral and ethical dilemma.

This subject matter is great for documentaries about healthcare in America. It can also serve as riveting material for a fictional drama about life and death in the midst of a broken healthcare system. Hence, the 2002 film John Q. It stars Denzel Washington as John Quincy Archibald, a man who is happy living with his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) and his son Mike (Daniel E. Smith). One thing, however, makes life a bit difficult. This household lives from paycheck to paycheck, and the employment situation isn't exactly stable for John. Then, one day, Mike collapses during a baseball game, after which John and Denise rush their son to the hospital.

The nightmare, however, is just beginning. Mike will need a heart transplant in order to live, and John's health insurance does not cover this procedure. He spends the next several days exploring all of his options to pay for his son's heart transplant, including community donations and efforts to appeal his health insurer. Then the nightmare really takes a drastic turn. Even as John raises some funds, the hospital plans to release Mike. Now the nightmare begins for the hospital's emergency department, when John takes a doctor hostage, along with a security guard, some emergency staff, and a couple of patients. Soon, the police arrive, and a long standoff ensues.

This movie features some intense performances by the cast. Denzel Washington, who is usually a very good actor, is mesmerizing as both a loving family man and a desperate man pushed to the brink. There is also James Woods as a cardiac surgeon who seems to be distant from ordinary people but may ultimately be sympathetic, Robert Duvall as a tough but compassionate hostage negotiator, Anne Heche as a mostly heartless hospital executive, Ray Liotta as a by-the-book cop, and even Eddie Griffin as a good-natured patient with injury to his fingers. On top of that, the script is written pretty well. The result is a story that constantly moves along, slows down when we should take in certain moments, and speeds up when the situation gets thrilling.

Interestingly enough, John Q reminds me of another film: Dog Day Afternoon. That 1975 movie may be about a standoff at a bank, unlike John Q with a hospital standoff, but there are some notable similarities. For one thing, the length of the standoff allows the hostages and the hostage-taker to actually get to know each other a little. That's good for this movie, because we cannot forget that John is still a family man underneath the threatening exterior. Then there is the public's response to the crisis. In both movies, the people witnessing the standoff are mostly supportive of the suspect. But while Dog Day Afternoon involves people who want media attention, John Q involves witnesses who believe that healthcare is a human right.

For most of the movie, my rating meter hovered at an 8 out of 10, which is pretty good. This is a powerful drama that may be fiction, but comes straight from the headlines, not to mention the lives of ordinary Americans who are going through the same turmoil with their lack of adequate health insurance. Best of all, Denzel Washington delivers a fine performance, enough for me to say that this is one of his best. John Q is a film that you won't forget.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about John Q, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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