John Q

Distributed By: New Line Cinema


Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            In 2002, a movie appeared in the theaters that touched the hearts of anyone who has ever had a family member in medical distress.  The controversial film made a very definitive testimonial about the present state of health care in America.  The movie was named John Q.  Cleverly, the writer of the filmís main character is named John Q. Archibald, John Q. being a term that relates to the average United States citizen Ė John Q. Public.  The film illustrates the frustrations faced by the average citizen with average HMO coverage when faced with a medical crisis.

            Denzel Washington stars as John Quincy Archibald, a loving father struggling to make ends meet while working a minimal amount of hours in a factory that is likewise struggling to survive.  Kimberly Elise portrays Johnís wife, a working mother who has recently gotten a job in order to make ends meet.  The two dote over Michael, their happy-go-lucky young son with an affinity for body building and athletics.  As the family struggles to make ends meet, they never lose sight of the love that brought them together.

            Then, one day, tragedy strikes.  While running the bases at a little league baseball game, Michael collapses.  At the hospital, the family learns that Michaelís heart is no longer functioning properly.  Michael desperately needs a heart transplant.  However, Johnís HMO will not provide the necessary money to cover the cost of such an expensive medical procedure.  The family and their friends do all that they can to raise money on Michaelís behalf, but it just isnít enough. 

            As the hospital prepares to discharge Michael, John does the only thing he can think of to force the hospital to put his sonís name on the donor list Ė he takes the hospitalís leading heart doctor and the entire ER hostage.  As hostage negotiators and media crews converge on the scene, John must decide how next to proceed Ė what steps should he take to ensure his sonís life will continue?  Media coverage opens Johnís plight to the world and sympathy is with him both inside and outside the hospital, but are his actions correct?

            John Q is a controversial film in that it portrays our countryís medical system in a negative light.  However negative it may be, this is an honest portrayal of what many Americans go through when dealing with life-threatening illnesses.  The fact of the matter is, though most people think they are covered in these instances, once they take place they find out that they are severely under-covered, if they are covered at all.  The fate of many Americans rests in the hands of the HMOs and the health care system and the rising costs of health care.

            That the film is directed by Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) is no coincidence.  Cassavetesí own daughter, Sasha, was born with a congenital heart defect and the movie is dedicated to her.  Having some experience with what itís like to be a father and feel helpless in the face of medical uncertainty, Cassavetes was the perfect choice to direct this movie.  Denzel Washington and Kimberly Elise have incredibly taxing roles.  The emotional roles of John and Denise Archibald were perfectly portrayed and ultimately believable to the extreme.  James Woods is both annoying and yet somewhat likable as Doctor Raymond Turner, the hospitalís expert heart surgeon.  Robert Duvall is excellent as the caring hostage negotiator who sees that this isnít any ordinary hostage taking scenario.  Anne Heche is despicable as the hospital director, Rebecca Payne.  We know that she is supposed to uphold hospital policy and yet, she represents all we hate about the health care system.

            Making appearances as the hostages are comedian Eddie Griffin, Ethan Suplee, Shawn Hatosy, Heather Wahlquist, Larissa Laskin, and more.  Each of the hostages have their own reasons for being in the hospital.  Though they are intimidated by John at first, the hostages soon sympathize with him, helping him in his cause as Michaelís situation becomes more and more desperate.  Eddie Griffin shines as a drug dealer with a hand injury who not only sympathizes with Johnís plight, but actually begins to see John as a hero figure.  Shawn Hatosy also shines as a rich drunk thug who is part of (as Eddie Griffinís character so eloquently puts it) the slap-a-ho tribe.  One pivotal scene involves Hatosyís girlfriend showing just what she thinks of her abusive boyfriend.  Heather Wahlquist is perfect as the girlfriend whoís had enough.

            The infinifilm DVD version of John Q is loaded with special features.  Fighting for Care is a documentary featuring an in-depth look into health care as it pertains to organ transplants.  It discusses the shortage of organ donors as well as the rising costs of health care and the lack of coverage by HMOs.  The documentary features real life doctors, hospital administrators, social workers, transplant recipients and transplant hopefuls.  Although the whole documentary is sobering, when you learn that the youngest member amongst the donor hopefuls did not survive past the making of this documentary, it just makes the subject matter that much more near and dear to your heart. 

            Behind the Scenes of John Q features discussions with the cast and crew of the movie and a behind the scenes look at the making of the movie.  I was surprised to learn that Dr. Mehmet Oz (of You on a Diet fame) was a technical advisor on this film.  It was Dr. Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, who showed James Woods the art of heart transplant surgery.  I had wondered about the realistic scenes in which heart surgery was performed.  The documentary explains it all Ė the props and the special effects that went into creating a realistic looking body and beating heart.  Even Dr. Oz was impressed with the effects.

            Also included in the infinifilm features are deleted scenes (which would have only served to make the film longer and werenít all that good), the theatrical trailer, commentaries, the theatrical press kit and DVD-ROM content which allows you to Script-to-Screen access to the film and exclusive access to on-line infinifilm features.

            John Q is a dramatic film about a very emotionally fired topic.  And yet, the drama in John Q is never over the top.  The movie challenges you to ask just how far you are willing to go for your family to remain healthy.  It challenges you to think about your health care coverage and whether or not you have enough should a situation like that depicted in the movie should occur.  The movie makes you think about the health care system and the high cost for medical care.  It challenges you to make a difference by standing up and letting your voice be heard about the issues at hand.  Check out John Q at your local video store today.


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