John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington) and his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) are devastated when their much loved son, Mikey (Daniel E. Smith), collapses because of an enlarged heart and only a transplant can save him. John’s HMO refuses to pay for it, and, ignoring doctors’ advice to “let go and let God,” the Archibalds try, but fail to raise the $250,000 needed. John, a desperate father, takes desperate measures when the hospital administrator (Anne Heche) denies his dying son the life-saving transplant. Feeling helpless and hopeless, John takes over the emergency room and holds the patients hostage, threatening to shoot anyone who tries to escape. Overly dramatic and preachy, JOHN Q may have moderate box office appeal with Washington’s star power, but it’s likely to win limited critical acclaim.
The film makes an intense, dramatic plea for reform of our nation’s medical insurance coverage with its spaghetti-like tangle of paperwork, bureaucracy and rigid regulations. The Archibalds obviously represent John Q Public, the innocent victims of a flawed system. Church-going, hard working and loving, John is willing to sacrifice everything for Mikey. His shocking attempt to force the heart transplant elicits sympathy from his hostages and the public, making John a hero, while police and hospital staff appear cold, indifferent and conniving. His gun threats, fights among the hostages, resulting in painful kicks and bloody noses, and an attempted assassination add to the drama. Unfortunately, the dialogue is peppered with several strong profanities and a number of obscenities, mostly from the hostages. We can’t give JOHN Q high marks with frequent foul language and its theme of solving problems by breaking the law and endangering lives.