John Q has compelling drama, great performances particularly from lead actor Denzel Washington, and a director who has first hand experience related to the film’s plot.
The tough drama in this provoking film is relieved occasionally with situational comedy and likable characters played by recognizable actors. The main theme centers around a family’s dilemma concerning their son’s serious health problems. Denzel Washington plays the father, John Quincy Archibald, a loving man who deeply cares for his family in the midst of financial difficulties. Kimberly Elise (Beloved) plays the mother, Denise, and Daniel E. Smith makes his acting debut as the son, Mikey.
Washington has several powerful scenes especially after an attempted attack on his life and a scene with his son near the end of the film. You can really relate to his pleas and actions even though they may seem extreme (it is a film after all – not real life). Sometimes it’s very hard to find help in a complex world.
You get a real ense of John’s family life – close knit, but financially troubled. John’s struggling with his role as provider and his wife’s faith in him. When John encounters an ultimate situation he takes matters into his own hands, but not before he pleads and begs for help for his son. The look Washington’s face during an important plea is very memorable.
The other characters are played by several recognizable stars. There’s the hospital staff who are mostly depicted as cold and seemingly uncaring people who run the hospital more like a business than a health enriching institution. Anne Heche (Wag the Dog, Six Days Seven Nights) plays the hospital’s head administrator, Rebecca Payne and James Woods (Contact, Riding in Cars With Boys) plays Dr. Turner.
The law enforcement characters, Robert Duvall (The Apostle, Deep Impact) as Grimes and Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Hannibal) at Chief Monro play basic functions within the plot. The professional dynamics between the two provide some minor benefits, but Duvall’s character is basically the same one he played in the 1993 film Falling Down, co-starring with Michael Douglas.
The bystander characters can relate to the audience the best, but fail to offer much beyond reacting to John’s actions and providing differing opinions on each action as it takes place. These characters include Eddie Griffin (Double Take) as Lester and Washington’s co-star in a previous film, Remember the Titans, Ethan Suplee who plays a security guard. The supporting cast also includes a reporter named Lampley, played by Paul Johansson (Soapdish, Lonesome Dove TV series) who doesn’t seem important at first, but provides an important catalyst for ensuing action.
If you’re emotionally attached to the character’s actions, you’re not as likely to question the justification and morality of each social and lawful infraction. These compelling, controversial points include an antagonistic hostage played by Shawn Hatosy (Thin Red Line, Outside Providence) and a large crowd booing a law enforcement officer after a memorable confrontation. These scenes and others provide you with several points-of-view and may force you to question your own perceptions, beliefs and characteristics. Scenes from the film may provoke questions such as “Do two wrongs make a right?” and “What would I do in that situation?”
Added elements of organ donations, political overtones, family bonds, and a medical indicator that shows how Mikey’s time is running out provide even more compelling elements of the drama. The numerous political elements range serious mentions, such as a televised George W. Bush speech, to comedic mentions from TV personalities Jay Leno and Bill Mahr. Several decisions involving the characters are complemented with justifications and debates through their dialogue. At times, writer James Kearns, who also wrote on the television series Highway to Heaven, uses character dialogue to anticipate the audience’s feelings. This dialogue also contradicts other points of view at times as Kearns covers every spectrum and opinion on the topics of health care, social issues, .
John’s no nonsense approach works well in the dialogue as Washington delivers many memorable lines ranging from slightly comical, “It’s an ER, everyone’s hurt”, to hopeful, “I’m waiting on a miracle” to resilient, “I’m his father, it’s my job to protect him.” Washington is especially memorable when he pleas for his son in front of a media crowd. The film’s climax and ending resolutions are realistic and predictably pull at your heartstring with emotional dialogue between John and his son.
The plot works well and the director, Nick Cassevettes, conveys the action and emotions very well. Cassevettes went through a similar situation in real life when his 14 year old daughter, Sasha, was waiting for a vital organ transplant. Real life drama has also factored into this film as health care and hospital officials have expressed concern for real life copycats of the film and fear “waiting room terrorism”.
Filmed in Canada (Ontario, Alberta, Quebec), John Q comes recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated PG-13 for violence, language and tense dramatic elements. The realistic scenarios and political elements in the film provide plenty of emotion and discussion.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler