starring Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Eddie Griffin, Kimberley Elise and Ray Liotta
written by James Kearns
directed by Nick Cassavetes
Not a great Denzel Washington effort, I thought, but a gripping story of a father struggling for his son’s life against the bureaucracy of the U.S. health care system. It was okay, but not superb. The acting was competent, no more.
Washington plays a middle class, blue collar factory worker. His only child, a son, suddenly falls ill at a minor league baseball game and is diagnosed with an eventually fatal heart condition. The cruel choices for the parents are either to waste time aiming for the unrealistic, out-of-reach expense of a heart transplant, or else resolve themselves to the inevitable death of their son and just try to enjoy his remaining time together, making him as comfortable as possible.
Tragically, these are choices that some parents really have to make, even in the United Staters today - the richest country in the world - because so many people do not have adequate health insurance, or because the fantastic cost of high technology medicine exceeds whatever health insurance they do have.
The parents cannot raise the money for surgery. The boy’s condition deteriorates. His death is imminent. To forestall disaster, John takes a gun to the hospital - possibly with the intention of forcing the heart surgeon to perform a transplant. But it is clear that the father is neither clear nor decided in his own mind what his intentions are when he begins his craziness. If worse comes to worse, his intention seems to be to kill himself and let his own, compatible heart be used in his son. “John Q” is the name that he gives over the telephone to police negotiators who eventually arrive at the hospital, seal it, and prepare to defuse a textbook hostage situation.
John Q’s action is vengeance on a monstrous health care system/hospital bureaucracy that appears immovable towards, an unconcerned with the tragedy overtaking his child. For this reason, John Q reminded me of another movie about parental vengeance on an uncaring health care system, Ben Kingsley’s filmThe Confession, which I reviewed in the January-March 2001 edition of this newsletter.
But this is a happy story, not a tragedy. John Q doesn’t kill himself. A suitable donor heart becomes available just in time through the hands of Fortune plus the intervention of a suddenly sentimental and sympathetic hospital administrator (Anne Heche).
Canada’s health care system, like Japan’s, is government-run socialized medicine. There are a lot of inherent problems with socialized medicine, namely long waiting times, high taxes, and limited services. America, by comparison, has capitalist, free-market health care offering more services, faster, but at excruciatingly high cost. I prefer the socialized health scheme. I will tolerate the slowness and the bureaucracy for the knowledge that the politicians who are charged with administering it are responsible to me through the ballot box.
Parents must sometimes wonder, “What will we do if our child becomes gravely ill? How will we react? How will we pay for treatment? How can we livewithout our baby?” John Q might not be a really exceptional film, but it has an emotional punch to it.