Wednesday 26 May 2021

Movie Review: John Q (2002)

A hostage drama, John Q spotlights the medical insurance crisis in the United States through the story of a desperate father resorting to desperate measures.

With the economy in bad shape, Chicago factory worker John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington) and his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) are struggling to make ends meet. Their son Mike suddenly falls ill, and Doctor Raymond Turner (James Woods) of Hope Memorial Hospital diagnoses an enlarged heart. Mike will die without priority heart transplant surgery. 

But with John's insurance coverage degraded due to his reduced working hours, hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche) refuses to place Mike on the transplant list unless John and Denise can come up with a $75,000 down payment for the surgery. 

When all fund-raising efforts and applications for aid come up short, John storms the hospital's emergency room with a gun, takes hostages and demands Mike be placed on the surgery list. Negotiator Lieutenant Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) and Chief Gus Monroe (Ray Liotta) of the Chicago Police are tasked with resolving the crisis, which escalates into a media circus.

Inspired by a system providing insufficient medical coverage for already struggling blue collar workers in one of the world's wealthiest nations, John Q is part message movie and part traditional hostage drama. With Denzel Washington reliably excellent in the leading role, director Nick Cassavetes and writer James Kearns underline institutionalized failures with plenty of passion but little panache. 

The first hour is dedicated to John and Denise's home life, Mike's sudden illness, and frantic attempts to find a financial aid solution within government channels or through community outreach. An underfunded and broken bureaucracy never comes close to providing relief, John's friends and neighbours are as broke as he is, and insurance companies are experts at the run-around. 

Meanwhile the character of Rebecca Payne is the cold and calculating face of a soulless system delivering medical care only to those who can afford it, Anne Heche portraying an administrator over-accustomed to simplifying every human transaction into a balance sheet entry.

The second half is a hostage drama trying hard to recreate elements of Dog Day Afternoon, with limited success. The media bite into an underdog story, the boisterous crowd gathers to cheer a new folk hero, the hostages are a colourful cross-section of society offering irritation and some humour, and the Stockholm syndrome predictably takes hold on the inside as Robert Duvall and Ray Liotta bungle the response outside. 

But John Q. Archibald is never less than a decent man wanting to do good by his son, and carries no genuine threat. Cassavetes has to look for tension elsewhere as the ordeal drags on, and meanders into a minefield of contrived junctures. Late in the day Washington pulls off a masterful father-son moment as a reminder of what is at stake, but John Q joins the crowd of well-intentioned causes pulverized by mechanical assembly.

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