Powerful enough to hide its weaknesses
By Gordon Walker
from Northern Ireland
, 08 Apr 2004
An involving, beautifully acted, sometime manipulative issue film, 'John Q' is the story of a factory worker (Washington as John Archibald) whose son is suddenly struck down with heart disease. Given a choice between making little Mike comfortable until he dies and the risk of a heart transplant the distraught parents opt for the transplant confident that their medical insurance will pay for everything. However, John discovers to his horror that because recent downturns have left him working 20 hours a week his employer's policy classifies him as part time and only provides $20,000 dollars of cover. This won't even pay the $75,000 deposit required for surgery. Provoked by his inability to provide for his family or pay for his son's surgery John is driven to desperate measures when he takes the emergency room hostage and demands that his son be put on the transplant list.
Structurally this is an issue-of-the-week TV movie, what transforms it are the sterling performances of a very strong cast. Denzel Washington's portrayal of the tormented father is pitch perfect and Kimberly Elise, as his wife, maintains a nice balance, simultaneously demanding the impossible of her beleagered husband while still showing her love for him thus retaining our sympathy. Robert Duvall brings suitable gravitas to a light and somewhat underwritten part and James Wood manages to make something of his awkwardly written role as the heart surgeon. Anne Heche's character is the weakest link although this again can be ascribed in large measure to a script that makes her just a little too callous to be realistic.
Weak writing in the supporting characters notwithstanding the film works very well overall, hanging primarily on Washington's work which provides the believable dynamic behind the whole plot. The minor roles of the hostages, while somewhat cliched are carried off well and the pacing is very good.
Apart from an ending which was not quite what it could have been the film is very satisfying.
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