"John Q" likely gained the interest of director Nick Cassavetes because his daughter has heart trouble and has been in need of medical attention for years. The story also has the potential of providing an interesting perspective on the nation's healthcare system, the subject of constant debate. While the film certainly has a legion of talented actors and a strong director at the helm, the screenplay is really the one element that lets the film down. Instead of providing analysis of healthcare, "John Q" turns into an action movie where it becomes rather difficult to suspend disbelief as the movie pushes forward.
Denzel Washington stars as John Q. Archibald, a Chicago factory worker who is having fincancial troubles - as the movie opens, he watches as his car is reposessed. Finding it difficult to get a job, he and his wife (Kimberly Elise) and son (Daniel E. Smith) are living from paycheck-to-paycheck. The glue that holds this film together when it becomes too absurd is the family unit portrayed by Elise, Smith and Washington. They combine to form a believable and loving family unit.
During a baseball game, his son falls and slips into unconciousness. John and his wife rush the boy to the hospital, where he becomes stable, but still ill. When they are asked into a meeting with the hospital spokeswoman (Anne Heche) and cardiologist (James Woods), they are informed that their son needs a heart transplant - his heart is three times normal size and working too hard. His otherwise healthy son now finds himself fighting for his life.
Things become worse when it turns out that John Q's medical coverage will not cover the very expensive operation (a friend of the family also had something similar happen - they needed heart surgery only to find that their insurance company had gone bankrupt), nor does he have the money for the downpayment to get him on the list of recipients. There are ways that he can get into the system, but he then finds himself going through lines, phone calls, mountains of paperwork and other run-arounds while his son's life hangs in the balance.
When his wife informs John that his son is going to be released, she states to him simply, "you need to do something." Tired of his inability to do anything to make a difference, John Q. storms into the emergency room and takes everyone hostage. Now John is faced with most of the police force, headed by negotiators Grimes (Robert Duvall) and Monroe (Ray Liotta) - one wants to negotiate, the other wants to do away with John before anything can happen.
The film could have offered some sort of opinion about the state of the heathcare system. Instead, "John Q" simply keeps stating, "It's BAD!" What should we do? The film really doesn't seem to have an answer; the hostages occasionally debate and argue about it between action sequences, but their thoughts are pretty simplistic. The wonderfully funny TV show "Scrubs", in-between the laughs, offers stronger opinions about the state of hospitals today. The villians (in this case, Heche, Liotta and sorta Woods) are stereotypical and have little depth. The performers all certainly try and provide passionate performances, but they're in service of limited characters. Denzel Washington and Kimberly Elise provide the most compelling performances; both have sincere and moving moments. Eddie Griffin and a few others portray the hostages, none of which are even really one-dimensional characters.
Overall, "John Q" would not work as well as it does without Denzel Washington. One of the finest actors working today, Washington gives his effort as John Q. his all, turning in a passionate and emotional performance with a lot of heart. I thought that "John Q" was watchable, occasionally moving and never boring, but it also had potential provide more intelligent discussion of the issues at hand.
VIDEO: "John Q" is presented by New Line Home Video in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is not 100% perfect, but, as with most titles from the studio, the image quality is very impressive. Sharpness and detail are very exceptional throughout - there is a remarkably smooth, well-defined feel to the image throughout. Depth to the image is also fantastic, with a three-dimensional feel to the film.
The only flaw that I noticed during the presentation was the presence of light edge enhancement during a few scenes. While this did make for a momentary distraction, these instances were brief. The print used was completely flawless - not a spot, not a speck, not a mark was seen. No pixelation was noticed, either.
The film's color palette was pretty subdued throughout the picture, especially in the hospital sequences, which had an intentionally crisp and cool blue tint. Colors remained strong and nicely rendered, with no smearing or other faults. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate, as well. This is a marvelous effort from New Line.
SOUND: "John Q" is offered by New Line in either Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1. Given the fact that this is a drama, I was expecting a fairly dialogue-driven affair. Thankfully, the film's soundtrack goes a few steps beyond expectations. The scenes directly outside of the hospital have a very "wide-open" sound; the viewer feels as if they're in the middle of the discussions by the police and press. Occasionally, a helicopter comes up in the surrounds and fly through the listening space.
Aaron Zigman's score really doesn't fit with the material; while never irritating, it doesn't seem appropriate to the scene. Still, stylistic choices aside, the score has superb audio quality, coming through richly and warmly. Dialogue has similarly exceptional quality, sounding very natural and clear. A very enjoyable soundtrack.
MENUS: As per usual, New Line has provided enjoyable animated menus - the menus are not flashy and are appropriate for the film.
Fighting For Care: One of New Line's finest efforts in DVD production is producing supplements. Their "Infinifilm" series has taken these efforts a step further - they provide documentaries that look deep into the subject matter of the film. In the instance of the 35-minute "Fighting For Care", we learn more about the situation of the donor/organ transplant system in this country. Several people who have been transplant patients, as well as people in the medical field, discuss the risks of organ transplants as well as the state of donations in this country. Unfortunately, the situation is not good - there are not enough organs for all of those waiting and those who are waiting must go on a list, but not before their situation is evaluated. There are few people who can afford the surgeries - some of which can cost $500,000 or more. Many, many people in this country also are going without health insurance. This documentary is very thought-provoking, very informative and something that everyone should view. Usually I discuss the commentary first in the supplemental reviews, but I thought this well-crafted documentary should be discussed first.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Nick Cassavetes, producer Mark Burg, writer James Kearns, actress Kimberly Elise and cinematographer Roger Stoffers. It was a little difficult to tell if everyone was in the same room, but it seemed as if most of the participants were recorded together. This was a fairly good commentary; all five provide enjoyable and informative discussion of their contributions to the picture. While all talked throughout much of the film, there were a few pauses of silence here and there. Still, those who enjoyed the film will appreciate the ability to hear more depth about what happened during filming.
Infinifilm: As with the studio's other "Infinfilm" titles, the viewer can elect to jump to additional featurettes regarding the scene that they are currently viewing. After the mini-featurette, the viewer is taken to where they left off. There is also an additional subtitle "fact track" to view. Both are enjoyable options to explore after the intitial viewing.
Also: A 16-minute "making of" documentary, 3 (total) deleted/alternate scenes, the theatrical press kit (bios) and the theatrical trailer.
Final Thoughts: "John Q" had the potential to be more and could have been more realistic, but Denzel Washington's excellent performance keeps the film engaging. New Line's DVD presentation boasts fantastic image quality, solid audio and fine supplements. Fans of the film should certainly purchase the DVD; although the film is flawed, the performances are strong enough to recommend taking a look at the film as a rental for those who haven't seen it and are interested.
The Film ** 1/2