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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

John Q (2002)



Reviews and Comments

John Q wants to be more than it is, but, demonstrating the phenomenon that the right cast can make anything watchable, it's pretty entertaining anyhow.

The premise is this: the child of poor parents has a critical heart condition, discovered when he collapses during a ball game. Due to changing insurance plans, the family's medical insurance will only cover an insignificant portion of the bill for a necessary surgical procedure. The boy's father (the John Q of the title, played by Denzel Washington) wrestles red tape all he can, pretty much exhausting all his options, until finally he takes over the emergency room to make things happen by force.

The movie only partially succeeds at its grand ambitions. It seeks to expose a flawed health care system, the heartlessness of the system, discrimination against the poor, and raise moral questions about right and wrong in matters about the responsibilities of fatherhood. It succeeds at raising awareness about all these issues, but only really drives this last one home. Is what John Q does right? Illegal, certainly, but is it morally right?

The heart of the film is in Denzel Washington's character and performance. Washington is a natural. He has a certain quality that draws eyes to him. He commands his scenes. Even when we don't believe in the movie, we believe in him.

Other parts of the movie don't quite work. An initially hardened nurse is an unconvincing character with a less convincing arc. The cops feel like something out of caricatures rather than real life. Public reaction to the taking over of the emergency room is not quite believable. If just one or two of these fringe elements had worked, it might have been enough to push this one over the top for me. As it is, there's a domino effect of sorts, where, because we disbelieve one element, we are more suspicious of another, and then another.

But I did indeed love Denzel Washington in this. After The Hurricane, Training Day, and Antwone Fisher, he is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors working today. In those three films, he shows what he can do in a movie that's worthy of him. In John Q, he shows what he can do in a movie that is not. It is no less spectacular, really.