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Denzel Washington is a great actor. I can’t fault him in any of the films I have seen him in. John Q didn’t do too well in the box office and it’s easy to see why. People often go to the cinema to get away from life. It’s a release into a world that often doesn’t exist, and John Q hits home some things that I’d imagine a lot of people don’t want to talk about.

The Film
John Archibald is a hard working factory employee who has had his hours cut so much that he may be employed full time, but he only works part time. Finding it hard for himself, his wife and his son to make ends meet in a final coup from the repossession depot, his wife’s car is taken. They are a caring, church going, loving family who care deeply about each other even if they have little or no money. Already the film is pulling at the audiences heart strings.

You say baseball, I say rounders

After church one day, they all race to Mike’s (John’s and Denise’s son) baseball game. Mike is the quintessential good kid. He loves his parents, says implausibly good things like offering his dad his allowance when he realises they are in a bit of financial trouble, and is intelligent and funny. He strikes the baseball hard and runs. I do not know the rules for this sport but I am guessing it’s close to rounders in that once the ball is hit, the batsman runs around the bases to get a “run” or point. Anyway, Mike runs and suddenly clutches at his chest. Falling to the ground, the game halts as John and Denise rush to their son’s side and take him to the hospital.

After extensive testing by the possibly poorly cast James Woods as the cardiac doctor, it turns out Mike’s heart has grown to three times its correct size. This means that it has to work hard to pump blood around his body. It is working overtime to keep the blood pumping and so it is failing. Without a new heart Mike will die so he requires a potentially life-threatening heart transplant. Now in the States they have this health care system where people have insurance and if something goes wrong with them or they get in an accident then the insurance pays the bill, which is normally astronomical. In the case of John, the insurance does not cover his son’s problem as he does not work enough hours at the plant to qualify for that cover. The operation costs $250,000 and without that money, Mike will die.

Excuse me Mr Duvall, that one large bogie up there?

John and his wife sell everything, friends chip in and the church helps out, however it is not enough and not fast enough. In the pinnacle point of the film, John has to do something to save his son, and so he barricades himself and several staff along with some patients in the Emergency Room of the hospital. His demands are simple; his son’s name goes on the donor list or hostages start dying. Enter Robert Duvall as the street-wise hostage negotiator and Ray Liotta as the pretentious and opinion-poll-obsessed Chief of Police.

So here is the problem: If the police back down then everyone in the country will be doing the same thing and if they don’t back down then he might start executing the hostages. Now we all know he won’t do that as John Quincy Archibald is a salt of the earth, family man who appears to be the perfect husband. The problem is that this movie really tries to make the audience emotional. Some people watch movies and although they claim to love doing this, they just blow off all these moving scenes as being nonsense but they  are happy to sit through such claptrap as End of Days or the like with no problems. Perhaps this is my Achilles heel in that I do get very involved with the films I watch or maybe I am just too darn sentimental, anyway this script does everything it can to try and get an emotional reaction from the audience. It does go too far in this respect and turns what is quite a political message of the American health care system into a bit of a gushy Mills and Boone novel. The characters are actually very stereotypical as well. John as the perfect father and husband, prepared to go to any length for his family; James Woods as the slightly pompous doctor; Anne Heche as the hospital director who is for the most of the film, Queen of the Ice Maiden Banshees except at the end when she turns into a warm caring human, Robert Duval is clichéd as the negotiator and Liotta is almost unreal in his role as the chief of police who only cares about his and the mayors image. As you can see, there are some excellent actors in there and Mike, played by Daniel E. Smith, does a first-rate job. The performances were ranging from good (Washington) to verging on ludicrous (Heche and Liotta). I did like this film, and it is upsetting and emotional in places, but it just misses the boat to be classed as a good movie as there are too many forced poignant scenes and too many ridiculously clichéd characters.

Bring out the gimp

Video
EiV give us John-Q in an anamorphic 1.85:1 format and the video, while not breathtaking, is above average enough to warrant a reasonable score. The film does appear to be a little too dark and this makes it seem even more depressing than it actually is. Blacks merge together in places and this generally darkens the mood of the film. There are no artefacts on the print so it looks clean which is always welcome however so it’s a decent enough effort.

Audio
The Region Two disc comes with both an English Dolby Digital mix and an English DTS mix. It is similar to the video transfer in that it is average. The inclusion of DTS was in my opinion, good, as a DTS track generally pick up a few more nuances than a Dolby Digital one can be of great benefit since the bit rate is substantially higher. There are a few places when this stands out when compared to the Dolby Digital track – when gun shots are fired and when the truck hits the car give a much more definite thump, crash and bang which will give all people with DTS enabled equipment a little more smugness over their somewhat lacking Dolby Digital only counterparts.

Extras
A decent selection of extras accompany this release and this is reflected in the relatively impressive animated menus. The menus are nothing mind blowing, and just show a few scenes from the film before the menus swish into place. The first extra is entitled Fighting for Care and is a serious look at the dilemma presented in this film – how heart transplants are allocated and why some people need them. Several short interviews are carried out with patients who have had these operations as well as doctors, and with people who are still waiting for them. The payment for this in the US is expensive and it makes interesting viewing for those of us that potentially could get this type of operation on the NHS. Running in at 34 minutes, this is a frank look at the way the US health system works and makes me glad I live in the UK.

The worst pain imaginable

The next extra is a 17 minute documentary Behind the Scenes of John-Q. A few nice insights into the cast and crew such that the director has a daughter with a heart condition which is why he instantly took this project when it was offered. The fact that the interviews were shot in widescreen enabled the clips from the film to also be presented in widescreen instead of letter boxed is a good touch. This happens rarely so I appreciated it on this disc.

There are six deleted scenes and each comes with a commentary track. The onscreen action is subtitled in English but sadly the commentary is not. I think people that are hard of hearing will be looking forward to the day when commentary tracks can be subtitled and presented along with the main soundtrack subtitles. One of these deleted scenes is an alternate ending and the commentary mentions that the apparent child on the table in surgery is not real, but a body cast. When I watched it originally I wondering how the effect was done as it all looked so real, but now I know, as do you.

There is an extra entitled Original Theatrical Press Kit and although this sounds interesting, it is literally what it means – a press release for the film. The other entries in this press kit are small biographies of the actors and the crew. While this is not core reading material, it is always good to see what some of the cast and crew worked on before this film along with any accolades and awards they might have picked up along the way. The theatrical trailer is included for completeness however it does give away a lot of the film in its short 2 minutes and I always find it odd when deleted scenes from the film are included in the trailer.

We then arrive at the audio commentary. There are several people present on this including the director, director of photography, writer and actress Kimberly Elise who plays John-Q’s wife, Denise. Since the film does not give too much to talk about it was a good idea to have so many people present on this. As Pete Roberts pointed out on the <a href=http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&;s=2&c=515>Region Four review</a> of this disc, the anecdote from the director regarding the presidential election is interesting and will make you think about how many times this could have happened in the past. Everyone loves all the actors in the film and they make sure you are aware of this throughout the commentary. It does go quiet for a while which I guess when they are all simply watching the film. It might have been nice if the person recording this had given them a bit of a poke every now and again to make sure we get out monies worth from them.

Time to update that copyright notice EiV!

Overall
This was a slightly average attempt at a serious issue which the director obviously has ties with and tried to get this emotion across to the audience. In fact I think he tried too hard at times which left us with the over exaggerated film we see before us. Acting is good if clichéd, however Washington puts in a film saving performance as do his fictional family. I think if more flaws and holes were exposed in the American health care system then it could have made the film more interesting from a factual perspective, but an overly sentimental script bogs the story down in tears. I was surprised to see that a scene with John Q and his gun is so factually incorrect. If the safety is engaged on a gun, then the trigger cannot be pulled at all – the gun does not go click and the pin does not fire. I thought all Americans had guns and so letting this through is a little careless. If it weren’t for the excellent selection of extras then I would not recommend this that highly, however they certainly help with this slightly above mediocre film. If, like me, you are a Denzel fan then maybe you should see about picking this up.


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