Movie Magazine International

John Q

USA - 2002

Movie Review By Casey McCabe

It's hard to imagine anything more emotionally wrenching than watching your young child slowly die while you remain helpless to save him. The new film "John Q" understands this, and trusts that the gut punch will also serve as entertainment.

We see the gut punch winding up right away, because John Q. Archibald is played by Denzel Washington at his most decent, determined and disarming. He's got a great relationship with his young son Mike, and wife Denise. Even after the family van has been repossessed due to cutbacks at John's factory job, they all squeeze in the pickup, play word games and make the best of the situation. They are at every turn good, honest God fearing people.

But when Mike collapses at a softball game and is rushed to a Chicago hospital, the diagnosis is grim. The boy's heart is failing. He's going to need a new heart or he will die. So what do you do now? Question your faith? Get angry with God? That wasn't uncommon in the vintage TV movie, which once had this formula down so well they dubbed the genre "disease of the week". This being a major motion picture, they had to up the stakes. So it's no longer God. It's the HMO you get angry with. Or the employer who didn't inform you of changes in your coverage. Or the hospital that claims its hands are tied....unless you can cough up the 250 thousand dollars the transplant will cost. By the time Anne Heche shows up as the hospital administrator, she might as well be twirling a handlebar mustache.

Now as anyone who has ever had to get a straight answer on a medical claim will confess, our current health care system inspires many a revenge fantasy. Mine happen to involve vats of molten lead. Still, when John pulls out a gun and puts it to the head of an arrogant heart surgeon, played by James Woods, and takes an entire emergency room hostage, the film takes a very uncomfortable turn. And then it spends the next hour trying to back itself out of the corner. Everyone has to jump in to prove that John Q truly is a good man who was given no choice....from the mixed bag of hostages, to the increasingly sympathetic hospital staff, to the opportunistic media mavens playing to the crowds....who are taunting the real bad guys in this scenario....the police.

Basically, John Q is "Dog Day Afternoon" as written by Hilary Clinton.

I suspect the reason people are drawn to melodrama is because they need the gut punch to remind them they're alive. And yes, you would have to be a stone not to feel something in the relentless emotional tug of "John Q." But when you step back from the film a moment....isn't putting an innocent child at risk for two hours before saving him just a little too easy? And worse...just a little bit....cruel?

© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 2/02

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