John Q


Directed by: Nick Cassavetes
Written by:James Kearns
Starring: Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Kimberly Elise
Released: May 2, 2002
Grade: C+

John Quincy Archibald (Washington) has been working in the same factory for 15 years but due to recent production cutbacks, how now works only 20 hours a week.  Making just $18,000 is not enough to care for his wife, Denise (Elise) and their 11-year-old son, Michael (Daniel Smith).  John and Denise’s relationship is strained by this life of low class and after Denise’s car is repossessed following default on their last payment, she demands John find a second job.

In a split second though, their lives suddenly change.  At a baseball game, Michael collapses and is rushed to hospital.  Doctor Raymond Turner (Woods) informs John and Denise their son has an enlarged heart and if a transplant is not performed, he will die within a matter of weeks.  Hospital director Rebecca Payne (Heche) then informs them that their insurance policy will not cover a procedure of this magnitude and that if they cannot find a 30% deposit to cover the $250,000 cost of the operation, their son will be released untreated.

At wits end, John’s actions are forced upon him.  After getting the ring-around from every insurance company and financial aid group, John feels he has no choice.  He takes the emergency wing of the hospital hostage.  The doors are locked, the media are informed and through police negotiator, Frank Grimes (Duvall), John’s demand is made - to have his son placed on a donor’s list.

This film has flaws of gigantic proportions.  Firstly, it tries to cover too much territory by attacking a string of easy targets who aren’t given true representation.  Insurance companies, hospitals, aid groups, the police, the media, the government and the economy are all heavily criticised - it’s everyone’s fault but John’s.  It always leaves a bad taste in the mouth to see a well-made film mislead an audience with obvious propaganda.  I hope people are aware this is a completely fictitious story.

Secondly, the plot development is artificial and based on reaching a predefined conclusion.  The story’s ending has been determined first and then the beginning has been written to match this conclusion.  This sequence of events is too remarkable to believe and the finale is the perfect emphasis to this point.  There isn’t enough grit or suspense - it’s all too easy for John if you ask me.

Newly crowned Oscar champ Denzel Washington gives an emotionally powerful and impressive performance.  As both John Q and Training Day showed, he pours 100% into every character he portrays but is consistently let down by a screenplay transforming his character into a superficial myth rather than a believable hero.  Robert Duvall was also great in a more light-hearted role and it brought back memories of his persona from a personal favourite of mine, Falling Down.

Does this film set a dangerous precedent?  Maybe.  It may only be a movie but a film that justifies illegally putting many lives at risk to save one’s son does deliver a subliminal message.  I didn’t feel the insurance companies and hospitals were given sufficient representation and by casting James Woods and Anne Heche in cold roles, it only adds to the audience’s hatred for them.  Last year, I criticised The Man Who Sued God for similar one-sided reasons.  John Q is just the American version.