JOHN Q

Directed by Nick Cassavetes. USA. 2002.


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I am suffering with a cold. I ache everywhere. Food has not been my friend this week. ďIíll have a black coffee with a Neo Citran shooter,Ē that is a typical breakfast order for me these days. So, I freely admit that my opinion of this movie may be clouded by a haze of cold medication and post nasal drip. But my opinion, such as it is, is this:

I think I should have been the perfect audience for this movie. As a parent, (not to mention a Ray Liotta fan of gianormous proportions) the plight of a child who desperately needs a new heart should have been so compelling. The problem here, (I think) is casting. All the strongest actors in this movie are in the supporting roles, leaving Denzel Washington floundering in their wake.

John Q is the story of a young boysí struggle for life. During a baseball game Michael Archibald (played by Daniel E. Smith in his cinematic debut) collapses due to a stroke, and is rushed to hospital. After being examined by ER physicians it seems that Michael will need a heart transplant or heíll die. His father John (Denzel Washington - Glory, Courage Under Fire) goes through every avenue he can think of to find the money to afford the costly operation, and, failing each time, he finally resorts to a desperate act to save his sonís life.

John Q. All Rights Reserved.

Denzel Washington (John Archibald) either hits or completely misses. With Glory and Malcolm X he was precise and exact, not missing a nuance, and slipping completely into character. Here he is missing the mark. As a father nearing the end of his rope, trying every way he can think of to save his sonís life, he seems to be holding back. Thereís none of the emotional range heís capable of showing through in this role, which is a shame.

I am still waiting for Anne Heche (Volcano, The Third Miracle) to grab some of the recognition she so richly deserves. Sadly, I donít think this will be the role that does it. The script has her character, (Rebecca Payne, hospital administrator), as a woman completely devoid of human feeling. In a scene where she must inform the Archibaldís that their insurance policy doesnít provide enough coverage to pay for the operation their son needs, there is almost a coldness displayed towards the family, making her unlikeable to the audience. Her seeming change of heart towards the filmís climax isnít enough to change that opinion. This was not a terribly great part for her. 

The wonderful Robert Duvall (Phenomenon, The Scarlet Letter) is, like Heche, squished into a role that leaves the audience disappointed. Duvallís intensity as a performer raises the pace of this film when his character police negotiator Grimes arrives onscreen, but the role only gives him sparse moments in the spotlight, under using this great performer.

Ray Liotta *sigh* (Unlawful Entry, Goodfellas) plays Police Chief Monroe, a media hungry, politically minded officer. For Liottaís intermittent time onscreen you canít take your eyes off him. His scenes with Duvall are the most genuine in the film, as both these actors bring an incredible level of power to their performances that is all to absent elsewhere.

John Q does carry a critical message. The lack of a proper health care system in the United States, causing people who canít afford life saving medical care to die needlessly is an issue that frantically requires action. This movie would have been a much better vehicle for that message, if more attention had been paid to the script. It would have turned this average drama, into a heartbreaking, and, more importantly attention grabbing film.

Jen Johnston
 
 
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