John Q
Little do they know. John and Denise rush into the ER with little Mikey
dir Nick Cassavetes
scr James Kearns
with Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Kimberly Elise, Ray Liotta, Daniel E Smith, David Thornton, Eddie Griffin, Shawn Hatosy, Ethan Suplee, Laura Harring
release US 15.Feb.02; UK 26.Apr.02
02/US 1h57

2 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
a father with no options has no choice With an intriguing premise and some profoundly important themes, not to mention a fantastic cast, this dramatic thriller should be a real winner. But the script lets it down badly with clunky plotting and far too much preachy sentimentality. John Quincy Archibald (Washington) is struggling to support his family; his hours at work have been cut back, his wife Denisa (Elise) is working in a supermarket, and their only joy is their lively and feisty son Mikey (talented newcomer Smith). Then Mikey has some major heart trouble, which isn't covered by John's insurance. After facing off against the high-price surgeon (Woods) and hospital administrator (Heche), John violently takes matters into his own hands. Enter a grizzled cop (Duvall) and his showboating chief (Liotta) to sort things out.

Yes, the realities of the American health system are horrifyingly unfair ... and life-threatening. But the film bashes point home so much that you feel numbed in the end. Combine this with the swamp of sweetness and by the time it gets to the end it's actually painful to watch. That said, the story is an important one--gripping and full of excellent moments. And there's fine acting all round--it's hard to imagine Washington, Duvall, Woods, Heche or Liotta giving even mediocre performances; their characters are consistently complex and exciting. As are all the supporting cast. And this is the film's biggest problem: It's strength lies in its characters, yet the film flattens them with an obvious approach that exaggerates the emotions at every turn. It's like a third-rate episode of ER blown up into a made-for-TV feature. And even there it can't decide which kind of Movie of the Week it should be--issue-based expose or heartwarming triumph over adversity. It's both really, and it could have worked so much better than this mess.
themes, language, violence cert 15 16.Apr.02

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2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall