I haven't seen this much propaganda in a movie or an attempt to manipulate an audience into giving support for a cause since "Ferngully". "John Q." is billed as an action/drama, but it is actually a 90-minute misinformation session about the evils of our current health care system. The attempt of a David vs. Goliath semblance give us the melodrama of a desperate father trying to save his dying child's life. The movie's main character is John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington), a working class factory stiff who can barely make ends meet for his family. During a Little League game his son Michael (Daniel E. Smith) collapses trying to steal second base. At the hospital, the Archibalds are shocked to learn that their son has a serious coronary problem, and what's even more alarming is that their health care plan won't pay for the boy's desperately needed heart transplant. The indifferent hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche with prominent erect nipples) refuses to place him on the donor list unless the parents can furnish the $75,000 down payment because their HMO only covers a maximum of $20,000. The couple get little sympathy or help from the boy's self-important cardiac specialist Dr. Turner, (James Wood) and despite their attempts to raise funds by selling off possessions and getting help from their church, the hospital scoffs at the paltry and woefully inadequate sum that the Archibalds present and decide that they will release Michael, basically sending him home to die.
After his tearful wife Denise (Kimberly Elise: Set it Off, Beloved) calls with the news that their son has been given a death sentence and tells him to "do something", John decides it is time to take matters into his own hands. He visits Turner to make one final appeal for his son's life. When he gets nowhere with the powers that be, he decides to implement his own style of managed care, he takes the Emergency Room and the people in it hostage.
NOW, good storyline, good cast, good idea, bad execution. There are more holes and flaws in this film's plot than in Noriega's face. From the moment that Denzel Washington pulls out a gun, all credibility goes out of the window. Not that a postal-style emergency room siege couldn't happen, but the idea of a lone man brandishing a handgun successfully taking over the entire emergency ward, while managing hostages, fending off the Chicago PD (who have him seriously outgunned), and talking with crisis negotiator Det. Grimes (Robert Duvall who seems to be reprising his role from "Falling Down"), requires more than a mere suspension of disbelief. Johnny pops in and out of his hole to speak with the cops and at no time does anyone take a shot at him but later Police Chief Monroe (Ray Liota) sends a sniper into ventilation system to take him out. The plot is supposed unfold in a "Dog Day Afternoon" meets "The Negotiator" type way, but all we get are several tangents, the most prominent being the one-sided view of our dreadful health care system. Then there is the power struggle tug-of-war between Duvall and Liota, not to mention other supporting characters dealing with their own guilt and ethics. The rest of the hospital goes on as business as usual while a siege unfolds on the ground floor. I've seen more panic at hospitals during power outages.
I realized this was a bait and switch and instead of getting a suspenseful social commentary, all you get are the various characters with their own problems and agendas, particularly the hostages, making speeches and debates about the evil empire that is managed care and the hospital system. All the good guys were your poor blue-collar stiff with noble intentions and your villains were educated and well dressed professionals. The movie seems to say that the only ones who deserve health care are your poverty line walking families, and not those who may be more financially fortunate, as a scene in the film tries to convey. So slanted was the angle of this film that certain facts were ignored or misrepresented as to increase the disparagement of the certain characters, especially those of the icy Payne who is shown casually smoking a cigarette while impersonally explaining that the industry can't afford to treat people for free. Despite what the writers and producers want us to believe, she's right, but they way her character was portrayed in this particular scene put Managed Care right in the same despised sort as Big Tobacco. I heard snickers as Payne (cleverly named don't you think?) presents the family with the option of 'making his remaining days a happy time' and focusing on the quality of life left. Sorry to say folks, but not all diseases/conditions can or even should be treated and that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. If I were terminal I'd rather live one month coherent, in control of my faculties and able to enjoy my last 30 days, than 6 months of tapioca pudding, adult diapers, and spewing mucus at family and friends who I'd no longer recognize. Now, I am not saying that our health care system is the model structure, but the movie's presentation of the topic doesn't want you, or even allow you to make up your own mind or draw your own conclusions. I felt insulted that the movie industry would promote their own agenda by tugging on the heartstrings of parents and using "plain folks appeal" to appeal to their target audience (read: converts).
Once again I shake my head sadly as another film with such great promise just didn't make it. Like his earlier work, "The Siege" Washington had a chance to deal with a hot issue and really make an impact, but doesn't even come close except perhaps to enrage and scare the audience, which is why we have the 5 o'clock news. The director must have had donated his brain or been the recipient of a defective one, because something was very amiss here. After seeing this movie, I had to take 2 aspirin.
Billz Movie Worthiness Scale: B-
Billz Movie Worthiness Scale Values:
A = movie tickets and popcorn for 2 (about $40)
B = buy the DVD when it comes out ($25)
C = rent it
D = wait for it to be on cable/pay TV
E = wait for it to be on regular TV
Internet Movie Database Listing