John Q Movie Review

It's tough to imagine a movie star of Denzel Washington's stature making a credible beleaguered everyman, but Washington does it in John Q. Unlike, say, Cary Grant, who always looked like the sharpest looking dude in Hollywood even when playing "regular guys," Denzel goes out of his way to ugly himself a bit, letting his hair grow a little unruly and adding on some chunky pounds. It's not necessary in a film with as much big movie sheen as this one, but it shows Washington's dedication - a trait that leaps off the screen, commands the movie, and pulls the entire audience in.

Washington, as John Q. Archibald, is today's blueprint, American blue-collar worker. He's an experienced Chicago machinist, a proud guy only able to work part-time hours due to the lack of work. The resulting scant paychecks lead to embarrassing situations, such as the repossession of his car, leaving his wife pissed off and his young son confused. The timing with today's marketplace couldn't be better in gaining the audience's sympathies.

But, as with many manipulative movies of its kind, the family is near apple-pie-perfect. Sure they fight about money, but they have what seems to be an unparalleled love: Dad and son goof during breakfast about the kid's love of bodybuilding, Dad and Mom cuddle at the kitchen sink and all is forgiven, the family plays a goofy word game in the pickup truck on the way to school and work. It's a little too golly-gee, but it sets up the upcoming conflict in a way that wraps the audience around John Q.'s little finger.

While playing in a good ol' fashioned Little League game (with half the community attending, it seems), John's son collapses from an undetected cardiac disease, and is soon desperately in need of a heart transplant. Enter the heartless hospital management, the deteriorating service from HMOs, and an unrealized change in John's medical coverage, and the Archibald family is up a creek. The operation costs roughly a quarter-million dollars, and the hospital brass (a prissy, officious Anne Heche and James Woods) needs a lofty down payment just to put the kid on a recipient list.

Director Nick Cassavetes (She's So Lovely) and ex-Highway to Heaven writer James Kearns then give us a little nitty-gritty, showing us the unending bureaucracy that the Archibalds must endure. They hop from office to office, filling out forms, trying to understand the system that just may watch their son die. It's not top-shelf dramatic stuff, but the time taken to show the process goes a long way in building a feeling of helpless frustration, making John the hero long before the plot turns, and Dad takes the hospital emergency room hostage.

That's when Kearns takes us into some Dog Day Afternoon territory, with angry citizens crowding outside with the media circus, cheering on the regular guy with the gun and the big problem (Robert Duvall plays the Charles Durning role in this one). But his script provides enough twists, modern and otherwise, to keep us rooting for John, his family, and his cause, right through the Hollywood hokum and manipulative dialogue.

In the film's final sequence, Cassavetes tries to smarten up the content by showing recognizable TV personalities commenting on, and railing against, the structure of today's medical insurance. (Those personalities include Jay Leno and Larry King, quickly becoming two of the biggest media whores - is there a message movie they don't appear in?) In a sad piece of coincidence, a clip from Politically Incorrect features director Ted Demme, who recently died of heart failure at 38.

John Q does run a little long, and pushes a bit too much, but there's no denying Washington's complete power, and this role gives him a chance to run nearly the entire thespian gamut. Moviegoers will enjoy the all-star cast and the near-constant tension, but they will be won over by Washington's performance and the timely cause, resulting in the most crowd-pleasing film of the season.

The new Olympic relay race.


Comments

John Q Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2002

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