John Q

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The ViewWellington Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/04/2002

Four stars out of five
Running time: 117 mins

Excellent dramatic thriller, a sort of Dog Day Afternoon meets E.R. with a little bit of Ken Loach thrown in – great performances and a strong, witty script combine to make this a genuine crowd-pleaser.

The release of John Q is extremely well timed, arriving shortly after the Oscars and confirming that Denzel Washington’s Oscar was richly deserved. It’s directed by Nick Cassavetes (son of the Godfather of Independent Film, John Cassavetes), who ensures that, as well as being a thoroughly entertaining thriller, the film also hammers home its important political points about health insurance.

Denzel Washington plays John Q. Archibald, a blue-collar factory worker with a loving wife (Kimberly Elise) and a young son (Daniel E. Smith, another addition to the school of Surprisingly Not Too Annoying Child Actors). However, when his son collapses playing baseball, it turns out that he requires a heart transplant if he is going to live and, shockingly, the hospital administrator and the chief surgeon (Anne Heche and James Woods) refuse to grant the operation because John’s health insurance won’t cover the costs.

Frantically, John tries to raise the money from every source he can think of, but time is running out and, in desperation, he takes what he thinks is the only way out – he takes the emergency room hostage. In no time at all, the police (led by Robert Duvall’s grizzled hostage negotiator) and the media arrive and the tension begins to escalate…

The performances are superb throughout. Woods and Heche in particular are perfectly cast – you can really believe that their characters would be able to turn John down. Duvall is great, too, particularly in his clashes with Ray Liotta’s pompous and media-obsessed police chief.

The rest of the support cast are also excellent, particularly Shawn Hatosy and Eddie Griffin, who play two of the hostages. It even has Laura Elena Harring (the brunette from Mulholland Drive) in it, although she is criminally under-used as the wife of John’s best friend.

It’s Washington’s film, though – he gives a terrific performance that ensures he never loses the sympathy of the audience, even as you’re practically willing him not to go through with his plan. In fact, he makes the role his own – it’s hard to imagine any other actor in the part.

If the film has a flaw it’s that, in the opening half hour, it suffers from a vomit-inducingly intrusive score with ‘soul’ ballads called things like ‘Please Don’t Let My Son Die’ and ‘Won’t Someone Help Me’, or at least, that’s what they sound like. Luckily, they disappear once the hostage action kicks off, but they provide a worrying few moments.

What really elevates John Q above the run-of-the-mill hostage flick is the script – as well as providing several very funny lines (e.g. Eddie Griffin exposing Shawn Hatosy as a wife-beater by saying “I know your sort – you from the Slap-A-‘Ho tribe’; or Washington’s riposte to Duvall’s enquiry as to whether anyone is hurt: “Everyone’s hurt – it’s an emergency room!”), the script also finds time for an intelligent scene in which everyone discusses the political implications of the government’s policy on health insurance (effectively that the poor are routinely refused treatment) – this sort of scene wouldn’t be out of place in a Ken Loach movie and yet it works here.

In short, John Q is a thoroughly enjoyable, crowd-pleaser of a dramatic thriller that will also send you out of the cinema with something to think about. It may be overly manipulative in spots, but the performances and the script make it worth your while. Highly recommended.

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John Q
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Content updated: 07/12/2019 22:35

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