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Look over there. I think I can see something. It looks like bullet holes. They’re everywhere. Actually, on closer inspection they’re a lot bigger than your average bullet. Could they be plot holes, perchance? Big enough to drive an ambulance through, that’s for sure.

Movie
John Q is the latest effort from Director Nick Cassavetes, whose most notable work includes the Travolta flick She’s So Lovely. And it shows. We’ve got very questionable production values that leave the hospital looking more like a set than a realistic location, some actors that are grossly underutilised and a sloppy script that leaves a lot to be desired. But more on that later.

The plot centres around a lower-than-working-class family called the Archibalds, with husband John (Denzel Washington) and wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) the proud parents of young Mike (Daniel E. Smith). But they definitely aren’t without their problems. John can’t get enough work as a construction worker so the family car is repossessed, their bank account is basically dry and the young fella is overcome by a potentially fatal heart complaint. The last issue is probably the most important one, I would suggest.

When the Archibald’s have a meeting with the major players at their local hospital things get a little more catastrophic. Accomplished surgeon Dr. Raymond Turner (James Woods) reveals Mike is suffering from an enlarged heart which is working too hard pumping blood around the body to cope for much longer. He suggests the Archibald’s apply to be added to the organ recipient’s list in order to get a new heart for the little guy. But head honcho Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche) has other ideas. As if neither of them had conferred at all before the meeting, Rebecca blows the whole organ transplant idea out of the water by highlighting the fact that the Archibald’s aren’t covered by their current insurance policy nor do they have the whopping $250,000 to fund the operation.

A tight squeeze

With mounting pressure from his wife to change the situation, John goes on a major fundraising spree but when that doesn’t work and Mike’s condition deteriorates he takes much more drastic measures. Turner becomes John’s first hostage as he takes control of the emergency ward of the hospital. Together with a handful of others including a foreign lady and her small child, a slimy twenty-something and his knocked-up girlfriend, a pregnant wife and husband and a couple of hospital staff, John locks Turner inside the hospital with the persuasive force of a handgun pointed at his head. And this is where the fun begins.

The problem is writer James Kearns has left gaping holes in the plot that even the finest of surgeons couldn’t stitch back up. The Spanish woman utters less than five words of English when inside the hospital but when released she finds enough language skills to answer a clear question from a roving reporter, declaring that “John Q”, as he calls himself, is a “very good man.” And it doesn’t stop there. Too much focus is placed on Anne Heche’s character being cold and heartless (pardon the pun) when there is clearly nothing she can do to help the couple under the current system. Then there’s the two police heads on the outside, Lt. Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) the negotiator and Police Chief Monroe (Ray Liotta). After a heated discussion about the way to conduct proceedings and a stirring declaration from Monroe that he couldn’t bear to have an innocent person wind up dead, Monroe decides that his men are going in to shoot John Q down. When Grimes asks about the hostages Monroe’s just tells him “they better keep their heads down.” A bit of a remarkable turnaround one would think.

But the final straw has to be during one of the more convoluted tension-filled moments in the story. A local news team has managed to tap into the police footage that feeds directly into the hospital, so the hostages inside can see what is going on. John Q, in a very emotional moment with his dying son, is being watched on national TV by thousands of people, with all of the hostages also glued to the telly. But once the conversation is over possibly the dumbest hostage of the lot finally snaps out of his trance and informs John Q he is being watched. Somehow it took him a whole five minute conversation to realise the footage he was looking at wasn’t just for entertainment value. Even the most casual film watchers will find themselves puzzled by some of these obvious anomalies.

Washington does a reasonable job at giving John Q a very likeable and noble quality, while Woods, Liotta, Duvall and Heche all turn in solid performances with their limited material. Even the bit parts of the hostages as well as Mike and Denise are quite convincing. But you can’t help think the writing and production values let this film down a hell of a lot. Save for the title character, all other key players follow a stock-standard stereotype like the condescending high-price doctor, nuggety career cop or cold-hearted hospital head. It’s probably a credit to the actors themselves that they managed to give them the slightest hint of personality.

Springer was just too good to miss

There is a valid point to make in this film which is merely glossed over in a “down-time” conversation in the hospital. The inference that doctors are paid to keep their mouths shut over certain issues deserved a lot more than a fleeting moment as a side note to the supposedly more interesting action. It is this that makes the film quite confused as to whether it wants to be an emotional drama, a scathing look at America’s health system or a run-of-the-mill hostage thriller.

If it weren’t for some reasonable performances this film would’ve been an even bigger disappointment, even if Washington is never pushed all that far by the material. Too many flaws in the story and some inevitable coincidences show up the movie as being nothing more than an error-riddled emotional tale. For those thinking Washington was about to follow up with another huge hit and stellar performance you’ll probably be disappointed. But some may revel in all the sentiment, so a rental could well be in order.

Video
Thankfully there aren’t any holes in the transfer, with the 2.35:1, 16:9 enhanced visuals looking very impressive. There’s a minor amount of aliasing on the grills of the police cars and the blacks aren’t quite as deep as they should be, but considering there aren’t too many night time scenes and the majority of the film was shot in the particularly drab-looking hospital set there’s nothing at all distracting to see. The print is relatively clean though you’ll find the odd artefact here and there if you’re really looking, but again you won’t be diverting your attention. The title sequence looks a little strange but that’s an aesthetic decision on behalf of the filmmakers rather than a fault in the transfer.

Audio
Here we have been treated to a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as a DTS 5.1 mix for our ears to feast on. Direct comparison revealed little difference between the two save for a bit of a volume increase in the latter as well as a slight boost in the lower levels overall. Surrounds are used quite well and the opening scene is the perfect example. There’s not a lot of crashing and bashing going on afterwards but it’s basically dialogue-driven throughout. Surrounds are utilised well when necessary without being excessive and the score by Aaron Zigman, a music producer to the stars and composer of tracks for films such as License To Kill, sounds particularly good. Probably the best mix one could’ve hoped for with this film.

Huge

Extras

The audio commentary was interesting in that Director Cassavetes reveals they weren’t sure who was going to win the Presidential election at the time of shooting so they had to capture footage of both Gore and Bush for the film. He also humbly declares that the casting of Daniel E. Smith as Mike was the “only correct call he made in the whole film.” Also involved is director of photography Rogier Stoffers, writer James Kearns and actor Kimberly Elise. On the whole this is a very informative commentary with the participants not afraid to make fun of the whole thing or chime in with some interesting anecdotes along the way.

The Fighting For Care documentary highlights how the health care issue in America should’ve been a more prominent aspect of the film rather than taking a back seat to the emotion of a noble father. This is a very interesting documentary, with interviews with transplant recipients, those awaiting an organ switch and the experts who will facilitate the operations. Running for about 34 minutes this is well worth a look, even though it shows up the film as being off the mark in terms of its coverage of the issue.

There is also a Behind The Scenes Of John Q documentary which runs for around fifteen minutes. It shows how much the film meant to the Director whose own daughter was suffering from heart disease. There are interviews with all the key players as well as clips from the movie and enough behind the scenes clips to suffice. Some of the car crash footage is particularly interesting, if a little brief. Worth a look.

The deleted scenes, interestingly enough, kick off with a cut scene involving more discussion on the HMO issue, where the doctors are paid to keep quiet. The commentary with the Director reveals that critics bashed this part of the film for being unrealistic and far too coincidental to be effective. They probably should have added the critics just thought it was in the wrong place and would have been perfect as the underlying element of the whole film. The first cut of the film was three hours long so there’s some interesting footage among these six scenes, including one where John Q realises there is another method on hand in order to keep his son alive. Play them with the commentary afterwards because the participants have some very interesting things to say and effectively put the scenes into context for the viewer.

"Young man. There's no need to feel down..."

Rounding out the disc is the theatrical trailer which was surprisingly cut together using a deleted scene as the crux of the two-minute reel. Nevertheless the trailer is very effective and certainly gives the impression of a solid film, even though the movie never follows through. There is also a theatrical press kit included detailing the cast, crew and production details. The menus are quite slick and impressive, giving us a high quality extras package overall.

Overall
Such an intriguing premise is spoiled by an overly sentimental and sloppy script that has its focus pointed squarely in the wrong direction. What could’ve been a great insight into the American health system, it’s doctors and its flaws turns out to be merely a tear-filled hostage flick where the perpetrator predictably turns out to be the hero. The visuals are quite good, the audio is very impressive and the extras are of very high quality so the only thing dragging the disc down seems to be the film. A shame really.


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