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Life is far from perfect for the Archibald family. John (Denzel Washington) has had his hours cut from full to part time at the local factory, forcing his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) to take a job at a supermarket in an attempt to pay the bills. However, they are so far behind in payments that on a monthly basis they have to make the choice to feed themselves, pay off their home, or the lease on the wife's car. They live in a modest home in an unnamed Chicago suburb with their 9 year old son Mike (Daniel E. Smith) and do all the things normal families do, including going to church and watching young Mike's little league games. As the film opens John watches their car get repossessed. Despite all the hardships they manage to continue as the love of a family propels them through life until one day at a baseball game their lives change forever when Mike collapses while running the bases.  They rush to a nearby hospital where the doctors are able to stabilize him though he remains quite sick. Searching for answers the Archibald's agree to a meeting with hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche) and cardiology department head Dr Turner (James Woods).  Payne and Turner have the burden to tell the Archibald's that their son's heart is three times the normal size and without a new heart Mike will most certainly die. They explain the cost of the operation to be in excess of $250,000 and because his insurance policy does not cover a procedure of this magnitude he will have to put up a down payment of $75,000 dollars before his son can be added to the organ recipient list.

John Q - Infinifilm Series
Backed up against a wall John begins to apply for all sorts of financial assistance including Medicaid, but despite his efforts he is unqualified. Through his friends and family he manages to raise a tidy sum of money. However not long after he makes that payment the hospital decides to release his son.  John finds himself left with no other option but to storm the emergency room with a gun and take a group of patients hostage. Obviously having not planned to do something this drastic John is unsure of how to handle things. The police react quickly by sending in negotiator Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) to try and talk John into releasing the captives, and ending this standoff.  It looks as if things are being handled cool and calmly until Grime's hot-headed box Chief Monroe (Ray Liotta) takes control of the situation and decides to send in a sniper before things get out of hand.  Will John get his wish and have his son's name put on the recipient list without any loss of life, or will John have to kill someone to get across his message.

"John Q" is one of a very few feature films that I missed during it's theatrical run, and although that was not for any particular reason I'm glad that my first experience with the film was in the comfort of my own home. The film's trailer made the film look like it was a drama dealing with the heavily flawed American health care system, and not the run of the mill hostage thriller it turns out to be. The film's main problem is that after a strong opening the film shifts gears completely and goes from being about a loving family that's devastated by their son getting sick, to a cat and mouse game between John Q and the two cops who want to handle him in different ways. Once John takes his hostages his son becomes an afterthought as light and restrained conversations about the state of health care occur and believability is tossed out the window. The events that follow are simply ludicrous and so far out there that they could never possibly happen in the real world. Do you think that for one minute, a single man could take over an entire wing of a hospital, lock it down and evade an entire police force while becoming something of a hero. The most likely scenario of how it would play out in the real world is that the police would use brute force and break into the hospital and take back the hostages by force leaving the gunman either dead or severely injured if he didn't cooperate.

Director Nick Cassavetes (Unhook the Stars) and screenwriter James Kearns also have problems filling out the story and instead of focusing and keeping things tight have decided to include a number of subplots or other story lines that they can cut away to when the action in the ER slows down. This allows for scenes of a male nurse bonding with the dying child by giving him an action figure of his favourite body builder, hostages trying to regain control and the most out of place scenes of a reporter trying to get his big break off the story. That aspect of the film seems like it could have been included in New Line's 2001 film "15 Minutes. The inclusion of these subplots harm the film's pacing and ultimately the effectiveness of the storytelling.  This is the first produced screenplay by James Kearns whose other writing credits include a couple episodes of the TV series "Jake and the Fatman" and "Highway to Heaven". The screenplay could use a lot of work as it starts off well but quickly dives into a clichéd rehash of many similar films. The only thing new to this film is that the hostage situation takes place in a hospital and that the father has a reason albeit a flawed one to do what he's doing. This is the third feature length film for director Nick Cassavetes the man who lensed "Unhook the Stars" with Gena Rowlands and "She's So Lovely" with John Travolta, Sean Penn and Robin Wright Penn the latter of which was written by his father. In terms of scope this is his most high profile picture yet and the added pressure of making a big studio film causes him at times to loose focus of what's important in the story of John Q.

One thing that really helped this film were the fine performances from lead actor's Denzel Washington, Kimberly Elise and supporting actors  James Woods and Anne Heche. Washington had a banner year in 2001 with his Oscar winning turn in "Training Day” continues to provide strong performances in every film that he appears in.  Washington's John Q is a man at the end of his wits and Denzel gives a always touching and poignant, and at some points almost inspiring performance. Kimberly Elise contributes a heart wrenching performance as Denise Archibald, a mother who goes through things that no mother should have to with her son. Anne Heche who I've never really cared for gives a strong performance as Rebecca Payne the hospital administrator that is forced to deliver the earth shattering news.  Despite all the personal problems she was going through during the film's shoot she gives her all to this role. James Woods is an actor I've always liked and one that's shown an enormous range from spoof comedies like "Scary Movie 2" to serious drama like "Dirty Pictures" . Woods can always be counted on  to deliver. Here Wood's plays Dr Raymond Turner the head cardiologist at the hospital.  Turner is a multi layered character who on one hand wants to save the little boy, but on the other hand knows that the logistics and costs prohibit it from happening.  I was also a bit shocked to see Eddie Griffin in the film playing a somewhat calm and collected character when he's usual an off the wall comedian. There's no doubt in my mind he was brought into add a comedic aspect to things, but thankfully he gives a rather restrained performance.

John Q - Infinifilm Series
"John Q" is not necessarily a bad film by any means, it just remains a shadow of what it could have become. Director Nick Cassavetes whose own daughter faced seriously health problems could have really dived into the state of the American health care and provided the audience with a much stronger film. Instead Cassavetes and credited screenwriter James Kearns craft a series of events so far from reality that the film at times becomes a joke.  The concept of John Archibald losing it and taking the hospital hostage doesn't seem that far fetched but the event happens so quickly that it's not as emotionally significant as it could have been. "John Q" as a whole is filled with missed opportunities and the chance to really make a message film that the public can respond to and inspire change in the highly flawed system is lost. It gets by okay on the basis of it's strong performances but without cast members like Denzel Washington and Kimberly Elise who really make you believe their plight, the film would be a below average hostage thriller. There were scenes I liked in the film but as a whole the film is just too flawed for a recommendation. It's never boring to watch but it does border on pain inducing at times as we watch John jump through a series of hoops.  It's not the worst film of the year but it's certainly far from the best. At the end of the nearly two hour running time nothing seems to be accomplished and that's not a good thing.

Video
I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is no greater pleasure then reviewing a day and date release from New Line Home Entertainment, who time and time again come close to having the best transfers in the business. "John Q" is released on everyone's favourite digital format with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer recreating it's original theatrical presentation.  Although there is no such thing as the perfect transfer this is another fine example from the studio. The 1.85:1 widescreen framing features a razor sharp presentation that when combined with a nice amount of detail lifts the image off the screen and into the room. The image has a very real quality to it that makes as if the action is occurring right before your eyes live, and hasn't been taped for playback. The transfer's use of color is split into two separate sections both of which are well represented on this DVD. The interior scenes in the hospital have been shot with sort of a blueish grey tint to them and have been processed to look cold and haunting. During these shots there's very little in the way of color and things are intentionally subdued. However the few scenes that take place outside the hospital are populated by bright vibrant colors including some nice orange baseball jerseys. In terms of problems there are relatively few to report as the source print for the transfer was in excellent shape, which allowed things to be scratch and scuff free.  

Since a few scenes in "John Q" appeared to be shot outdoors and had brick buildings in them I was a bit concerned that shimmer or pixelation would be a problem but this wasn't the case. In fact the only real problem comes in the form of some light to moderate edge enhancement which was most noticeable during the opening credits before making brief appearances throughout. New Line has kept the problems to an absolute minimum and done an excellent job recreating the intended look of the film.

Audio
New Line takes no hostages with the audio options on "John Q" as they include 5.1 soundtracks in both Dolby Digital and DTS flavours, as well as a 2.0 stereo surround sound mix for those without 5.1 decoders. Since "John Q" is a drama I wasn't expecting much in the way of a sound experience and thought this would be a safe disc to play late at night. Luckily I didn't take that chance as this disc features a fairly aggressive audio mix. No time is wasted as the viewer is thrown head first in a fast paced action sequence that features a car being driven into a truck with a fair bit of rubber screeching on the pavement. The surrounds also offer a fair bit of action during exteriors scenes where the sound designer has taken a very true to life approach by mixing things as if the viewer was in the middle of the action. Imaging is generally strong with sound effects appearing mainly in the front speakers but also in occurring in the rear when needed.  There is an adequate amount of ambience and on occasions you can hear the police helicopter flying by.  The film's score fills the room nicely sometimes almost too well as it becomes a bit overpowering. I wasn't so impressed with the dialogue which I felt was mixed a bit too hot at the beginning on the DTS track which resulted in a switch to the Dolby Digital track and when that didn't fix it a reduction of volume for the center channel. Speaking of volume levels both of the discrete soundtracks appear to be recorded at levels that are higher normal. I tried to play this disc back at the same volume I use for other discs and it was just a bit too loud. The DTS and Dolby Digital mixes were nearly identical except for some slight ambience and a tighter low end on the DTS track. Both mixes were mixed a bit loud for my liking.  All in all this is a pretty good mix for a drama  though it loses a half point for the dialogue issue.

John Q - Infinifilm Series
Extras
"John Q" is the latest in New Line's Infinifilm Series which take viewers Beyond the Movie through a collection of special features dealing with the subject matter of the film itself. In the past this has included documentaries on the Cuban Missile Crisis for "Thirteen Days", the cocaine scene in the late 70s and early 80s on "Blow" and how violence is portrayed in the media on "15 Minutes". The Infinifilm features on "John Q" deal with the state of the American heath care system. As I've done with prior Infinifilm titles I'll break this section into two parts "Beyond the Movie" features and the more traditional "All Access Pass" features.

Beyond the Movie Features
"Fighting for Care" continues the fine tradition of specially produced documentaries for the Infinifilm series. This documentary follows "Roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis" and "Lost Paradise : Body and Soul" in that it deals with a real life aspect from the film in more extensive detail. In the case of "Fighting for Care" the viewer is given a 35 minute look into the problems currently facing the transplant system in America. Through interviews with patients and their families and medical specialists involved in all aspects of the system the documentary paints a bleak picture. Although the system that's in place works quite well it is not easy to get on the organ recipient list. There are a number of factors and tests that must completed prior to being even considered for the list and many people die before they can receive the surgery. Like anything else money plays an important role in just who can receive the procedure and with surgeries costing upwards of $500,000 the average American just can't afford it. People with insurance are not necessarily better off then those without as a number of major companies don't offer that level of care or only offer a limited amount to cover those procedures. As a Canadian, I found this documentary even more eye opening because unlike the United States we have a national health care system. It may be flawed but at least I can bank on the fact that if I become sick something will be done without me having to worry about paying for it.

Since this is an Infinifilm release viewers are also given the option of watching the film with the Infinifilm information track. When activated this track allows viewers to access bonus materials related to the on-screen action. If supplemental material is present, a blue bar will appear which gives viewers the option of viewing a short featurette before they are returned to the film. A second information only "Fact Track" is also included which provides a constant stream of text in the same blue bar at the bottom of the screen. Both options are worth a quick look through but unlike previous Infinifilm titles there is no exclusive content contained within this section of the disc.

All Access Pass Features.
New Line assembles director Nick Cassavetes, producer Mark Berg, writer James Kearns, cinematographer Roger Stoffers as well as actress Kimberly Elise for this audio commentary. Now I wasn't a big fan of the film itself, but this commentary track does give the viewer some insight in the motivations behind the film. The discussion is chocked full of information from all stages of the production, including the casting of leads Denzel Washington and Kimberly Elise, and what attracted various people to the project. We learn early on that Cassavetes who up until this point had only directed small more intimate independent type films was interested in the project due to the parallels with his real life. He talks a bit about how his daughter was a candidate for open heart surgery and the experiences he went through. Producer Mark Berg discusses the logistics of shooting the project in Toronto, Canada and how the physical conditions affected the final product. Cassavetes along with Stoffers talk about the visual style they were going for the film and more specifically the hospital scenes which were shot in a monochromatic tone.  Actress Kimberly Elise contributes how it was to work with the legendary "Mr" Washington and child actor Daniel E. Smith who played her son in the film. She also offers up a few interesting anecdotes including the story of how the three of them went to Niagara Falls during a break in the shooting schedule. For the most part this is a pretty interesting track though there are a few of the usual distractions that occur throughout the discussion. The first one would be the fact that there are a number of long gaps in between comments throughout the film, especially during the  last 45 minutes of the film. The second would be what I like to call "Self Congratulatory" or back patting mode where they participants lavish praise on one another or their co-workers who for whatever reason were unable to sit down for the track. Despite those two fairly minor problems this is an entertaining track that provides compelling material and documents all aspects of the film well.

Up next is the 16 minute long "Behind the Scenes of John Q" which takes the viewer on location to the film's set in Toronto, Canada. It's becoming a chore to review anything labelled "Behind the Scenes" or "Making of "  because for the most part they are little more then promotional pieces from the studio hype machine. However New Line continues to maintain a high standard for these featurettes providing more then just the basic film clips and interview footage that dominate similar documentaries on other studio's discs. While "Behind the Scenes of John Q" is put together is much the same way as these electronic press kits the difference is that the interview footage given is highly informative and the viewer actually learns about the feature film. Sitting down for interviews are the entire principal cast including Denzel Washington, Kimberly Elise, Daniel Smith, James Woods, Robert Duvall and Anne Heche as well as director Nick Cassavetes, producer Mark Berg and medical consultant Mehmet Oz. The interviews touches upon the real life story of the director's own daughter and how he was immediately attracted to the script as well how they settled on the casting of Denzel Washington as the film's title character.  In between the interviews we are treated to clips from the film as on set footage.

As is the case with most films some material from "John Q" wound up on the cutting room floor. New Line includes roughly 20 minutes of that material is this section of the disc. The 20 minutes of footage is split up amongst 6 different sequences, which expand upon certain subplots that while interesting in their own right at the end of the day were unneeded in the final cut of the film.  The majority of this material comes from scenes already included in the film and the versions included are simply longer then the ones in the final cut. Two of the cut scenes standout in that they contained strong performances from James Woods who I felt was one of the best things about the movie. In the first there is more of an explanation given about the reality of health care and how the doctors and drug companies want people to remain sick so they get paid and how the insurance companies or HMOs want people either dead or healthy so they can make money. The second deals with a monologue given by Wood's characters on what he feels a doctor's roll is.  Both moments added a touch of humanity to Wood's character and took the film in the direction it should have gone. Technical presentation of these scenes is excellent as they are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with your choice of either finished audio or audio commentary with director Nick Cassavetes.

Rounding out this section of the disc is the film's theatrical trailer which runs 2:24 and is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio as well as a collection of production notes and cast and crew biographies.

John Q - Infinifilm Series
Overall
"John Q" is a film I wanted to like for so many reasons. I thought the premise sounded strong and the cast list looked first rate, but something caused me to skip over the film in the theater. Now as the film hits DVD I finally had a chance to take a look and I wasn't overly impressed with what I saw. The film's biggest problem is it takes a very real situation and turns it into pure fiction with a series of events that would never be allowed to transpire. New Line's Infinifilm series provides the film with the strong video and audio quality it deserves, as well as handful of interesting extras that truly take the viewer "Beyond the Movie". The documentary "Fighting for Care" is worth the price of admission alone and in many ways is better then the film itself. If your a fan of the film then this DVD edition won't disappoint. However if you haven't seen the film then you'd do best to try out "John Q" as a rental.


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