John Q

How far would you go to save a loved one? This is the question that for many of us thankfully will remain a hypothetical pondering. However for John Archibald (Denzel Washington), in the new Drama “John Q” the question drives him to stage a high stakes crisis where life and death are the only options.
Directed by Nick Cassavetes, “John Q” tells the story of John Archibald and his family, wife Denise (Kimberly Elise), and son Mike (Daniel E. Smith) as they struggle to cope in difficult economic times. John is working part time at his factory due to hours being cut, and his wife has just started at a grocery store. Despite the financial hardships, they are a loving and happy family who have good friends and are respected by their congregation and community. Tragedy strikes the family unexpectedly when Mike collapses during a baseball game, and is discovered to have a failing heart by the doctors attending him. It is revealed that short of a transplant, Mike will not live much longer. The cost of the transplant is a quarter of a million dollars, and John is informed that his insurance will not cover the procedure. Unwilling to let his only child die, John and Denise set about contacting various relief and assistance agencies in an effort to raise the money and save their son. Desperate to pay the rising costs, the Archibalds soon take to selling their possessions and accepting charity from their congregation but it is still far too little as they are denied assistance time after time by the bureaucracy. Desperate to keep his son in the hospital after being informed of his pending release due to lack of funds, John takes matters into his own hands and takes the hospital’s emergency room and several people hostage. John has a very simple request, all he wants is to have his sons name placed on the donor list so that Mike might have a chance to live.
During the hostage standoff, John has to negotiate with veteran police officer Grimes (Robert Duvall) who wants to end the standoff quickly and quietly. The efforts are hampered by the Chief of Police (Ray Liotta), who is more concerned about election year politics and his media image than in doing what is right for all parties involved. Further complicating the situation are Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche), as a hospital administrator more concerned with the bottom line than helping the public and Dr. Turner (James Woods), as the surgeon that can save Mike, but who is more concerned with policy and procedure than the human issue at hand.
The hostages John holds are a mixed group including a Hispanic mother, an expecting couple, an abusive rich snob and his girlfriend, nurses and guards and a smooth operator know as Lester (Eddie Griffin). It is the diversity of the group that leads to some of the more memorable moments in the film as the notion of health care in America is seen differently by each member of the group, and the film avoids the racial issue and instead relies more on the economic factors that for many determine the type and quality medical care they can receive. While the film is dramatic, it rarely seems forced or contrived and the issues raised by the film are valid with no easy answers. The film also takes steps to show the other side of the issue, as while the bureaucracy is painted in a bad light, the audience is given some of the reasons behind their actions and decisions.
The cast is very good and Washington and Woods give outstanding performances without stepping on each other’s toes. The ensemble cast works well and there is solid chemistry amongst all the characters. Perhaps the most enjoyable things about “John Q” other than the fact that it entertained, was that it informed without preaching nor making broad generalizations. The situation in the film was shown as what happened to one family without making broad references about this sort of situation happening to everyone. “John Q” is a well-made and informative film that was a pleasant surprise.

4 stars out of 5