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John Q

Examining the "what-ifs" of

Just when you thought that they had stopped making movies with a social conscience, along comes John Q to prove you wrong. Turns out that Hillary was right after all - America's healthcare system really is screwed up.

John Q stars the always excellent Denzel Washington as John Q. Archibald, a devoted husband and father who finds that the healthcare system is failing him, and fights back the only way he knows how to save the life of his son. In contrast to other one-guy-against-the-system movies such as Falling Down, Washington's transition from average Joe to taking the law into his own hands is absolutely believable, mostly because his motivations are so clear and his sense of right and wrong so simple. In the middle of the chaos that he helps to create his moral compass always seems to be pointing true north, creating a powerful sense of what a good person will do when pushed beyond their limits.

The real problem with this movie is that it suffers from a kind of moral and ethical schizophrenia. The moviemakers seem to have started out with the intention of making a strong statement about the appalling and fundamentally unacceptable fact that the richest nation on earth allows millions of its citizens to suffer and die from entirely treatable medical conditions, simply because they're poor. However, the argument the movie makes is so simplistic - insurance company's bad, doctors good but helpless, ordinary working stiffs screwed - that it shoots itself in the foot. It never quite takes the next step into any kind of discussion of how things ended up this way, or what might be done to fix them. On the other hand, the disappointing cop-out of a plot twist at the end of the movie left this reviewer feeling as if the moviemakers had lost the courage of their convictions. The sappy sentimental Hollywood ending just doesn't fit with the tone of the rest of the movie.

Overall, John Q is definitely worth seeing, mostly for the impressive performances turned in by the major cast members. The only sour note bizarrely comes from the usually impeccable James Woods as the cardiologist working on John Q's son. Woods is his usual intense but understated self throughout most of the movie, but his transition towards seeing John Q's point of view happens just a little too quickly for the audience to swallow, which points back to the two major weaknesses of this movie - script and direction. Woods is a great actor, and he's doing the best he can with the material, but he doesn't really have a lot to work with here. Robert Duvall is note-perfect as a crusty police hostage negotiator, and works well in contrast with Ray Liotta as a showboating Chief of Police. Also worth watching is the consistently underrated Anne Heche, who provides the only real sense of moral ambiguity and complexity in the movie as the hospital administrator who has to tell Washington that his son is going to die because he doesn't have insurance. If you can live with the overly simplistic tone and the sometimes irritating editing, and focus on the performances, this is actually a pretty good movie. If nothing else, maybe it will serve as a wake-up call on the scary state of our healthcare system, and for that alone it's worth recommending.


John Q
Rated PG-13
1 hour 58 minutes

Denzel Washington
Robert Duvall
Anne Heche
James Woods
Eddie Griffin