"Months, weeks, maybe days," that's all John Q's son has left in Nick
Cassavetes's JOHN Q. At a time of recession and with unemployment rising, JOHN
Q is a story that resonates. Starring one of the world's finest actors, Denzel
Washington, as John Q. Archibald, the formula film survives its needless
mistakes in scripting and becomes a powerful motion picture in spite of itself.
When we first meet poor, blue collar worker John, his car is being repossessed.
This will prove to be the least of his problems. John's son, Mike (Daniel E.
Smith), needs a heart transplant, or he will die. Since he has insurance, John
figures, incorrectly, that this will be no problem. The new policy to which his
company has recently reassigned him, however, doesn't cover such expensive
procedures. Washington pours his heart and soul into the role, and, if you
aren't quickly rooting for John, you may need a heart transplant yourself since
yours must be too small. The endearing and close father-son relationship is
touching and completely genuine. Every son should be so lucky as to have such a
father, and vice versa.
When no one will pay for the heart transplant -- after John fights through a
Kafkaesque maze of uncaring bureaucrats -- he flips. Holding everyone in the
emergency room hostage at gunpoint, he makes only one demand to the cops: Put
his son's name on the heart transplant donor list.
James Woods is terrific, as always, as the hospital's arrogant head of cardiac
surgery. Robert Duvall plays the cool headed hostage negotiator, and Ray Liotta
plays the Chicago Chief of Police, whose every decision is politically
The script, by television writer James Kearns, is full of problems which would
have been easy to fix. John and his wife (Kimberly Elise) are first told of
their son's predicament over an enormous wooden boardroom table of the size
befitting a large multinational conglomerate. The hospital administrator there,
Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche), has an unbelievable heart of solid stone. Rebecca
is as rude and condescending as humanly possible towards this family, who has
just discovered that their only son will probably be dead soon. (She will, of
course, make a miraculous conversion to the good side late in the story.) Other
problems include the telegraphing of the conclusion in the opening scene and the
ending with a sappy sermon complete with a lecture by Hilary Clinton. These
flaws are forgivable, thanks mainly to another superlative performance by
The best small part of the film is the apt name for the hospital -- Hope
Memorial. For most of the movie, it looks to be a memorial to the death of
JOHN Q runs 1:58. It is rated PG-13 for "violence, language and intense
thematic elements" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes