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John Q

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
John Q
from Film Forum, 02/21/02

If your son needed a heart transplant and your medical coverage refused you any help, what would you do? In John Q, a new film by Nick Cassavetes (She’s So Lovely), Denzel Washington plays a father driven to desperation by insurance company technicalities, unemployment, debt, and law enforcement. Unable to get help from authorities, he takes hostages in a hospital emergency room. This gets the attention of the press and results in a standoff with the police.

While it may be easy to sympathize with John, especially since he is portrayed as a God-fearing man, a loving husband, and an admirable father, religious press critics are displeased with the glorification of Mr. Q’s vigilante tactics.

Steven J. Greydanus (Decent Films) asks, “Did I just walk into The Twilight Zone, or did Hollywood just release a post-9/11 film featuring an immaculately uniformed and decorated police chief as a bad guy, and a gun-wielding, hostage-taking terrorist as the hero?” He’s not impressed with the character or the movie. “John makes his point with a gun and fiery determination. Cassavetes makes his with ham-fisted unsubtlety, blatant manipulation, embarrassingly stereotyped characters and clichéd situations, thuddingly preachy dialogue, bludgeoning musical cues, and finally even a string of celebrity cameos by Jay Leno, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Maher calling for health care reform.”

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says the filmmakers “stack the deck so obviously in favor of the common man … that they actually weaken the points being made. To honestly address the flaws inherent in how medical aid is made available to American workers, a more balanced or fair portrayal of both sides will be needed.” But he adds, “What does shine through the all-too-obvious propagandizing … is the love that this father has for his son. God's fatherly love towards us is no less intense.”

“It works,” argues David Bruce (Hollywood Jesus). “You’re really rooting for [John]. He’s willing to sacrifice everything for his son—his name, his career, his very life. The Scriptures say that there is no greater love than he who would lay down his life for another.”

Mary Draughon (Preview) calls the plea for reform intense and dramatic, but adds that she “can’t give [it] high marks for acceptability because of the foul language and its theme of solving problems by breaking the law and endangering lives.”

Tom Snyder (Movieguide) is pleased that the movie “does not shy away from revealing the Christian background of John and Denise.” He disagrees not with the film’s promotion of vigilantism or its heath care reform agenda: “The filmmakers have decided to use their story to present a biased, socialist solution to the health care issue in the United States. Under such a system, of course, government bureaucrats would force every company and every person in the United States, including illegal aliens, to put their money into a national health care system.”

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) raves, “I was enthralled with some scenes, shed tears at others. Themes of redemption and victory over ‘the system’ as well as the struggle with human behavior and survival make it an uplifting drama worth seeing.”

And Phil Boatwright (The Movie Reporter) says, “I was completely entertained with this film. I enjoyed seeing a family pull together through hard times. The early-on scenes painted a realistic family. The dialogue was lively, yet, always believable. And although I struggle with viewing some movie stars portraying people with financial problems, Denzel is such a fine actor that you buy into the film's premise, instantly.”

Eric Schmidt (Christian Spotlight) disagrees, calling it “a laughable, completely unplausable film.”

Mainstream critics recognized that the film is designed to manipulate the emotions of an audience, and thus, like A Beautiful Mind, it will probably be a successful crowd-pleaser. But most suggest that implausibility and sentimentality weaken the exploration of health care issues, and that Washington gives a strong performance in spite of a weak, propaganda-heavy script.

 “John Q is … so earnest, so overwrought and so wildly implausible that it begs to be parodied,” declares Roger Ebert. “I agree with its message—that the richest nation in history should be able to afford national health insurance—but the message is pounded in with such fevered melodrama, it's as slanted and manipulative as your average political commercial.”

REVIEWHulking RageAn epidemic of anger at the cineplex.by Jeffrey OverstreetBooks & Culture, September/October 2003