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John Q
USA, 2002
[Nick Cassavettes]
Denzel Washington, Anne Heche, James Woods, Robert Duvall, Ray Liotta
Drama / Thriller
If a great actor turns in a typically accomplished performance in a weak movie, is it fair to ignore his contribution on the grounds that it was nothing short of what you expected? That isn't the question posed by this movie (actually 'How far will one man go to save the life of his son?') but it's certainly one I'm pondering right now. I'll get back to you on that.

While desperately trying to reach second base (in a little league game, it's a family drama ok?), construction worker John Q. Archibald's son collapses due to sudden heart failure. The condition is so extreme that his only chance of survival is a transplant. Unfortunately John's insurance policy has recently changed and doesn't cover such a procedure. Unable to raise the huge amount of cash needed, and harried by his distraught wife, he decides to take the hospital by force and use hostages to secure his kid's survival.

The first half is made up of a fairly routine drama which could be found in any cable movie. However, as I mentioned earlier Washington is near faultless in portraying the father's emotions of determination, despair and frustration. But the atmosphere is repeatedly ruined by an absurd score and soundtrack, with a frenetic brass-band more suited to a historical war sequence accompanying the heart attack and an awful blues/gospel song smothering John's attempts to raise cash.

The second half is a fairly limp hostage plot which is basically a copy of
Dog Day Afternoon, except obviously with a very different operation in mind. No real character development is afforded to the various hostages, who could have had some subplots to keep the story more interesting. As it is the story is very predictable from the opening sequence, and to make sure we don't forget we are kept updated on the progress of the accident victim throughout.

The overall tone seems unsure. There is plenty of soap-box ranting about American healthcare and management motivation in hospitals. However it's not explored very deeply and is quite repetitive. Especially when the seemingly evil head surgeon and hospital boss seem to undergo sudden and total changes in opinion halfway through the film. Similarly the siege doesn't know whether it is a satire (with the news anchor), a drama, or a
Swordfish-style police siege (again the score can be blamed as it switches to pumping action music).

So after all that, how does Washington's terrific performance affect my verdict? I'd say it adds at least one star, because I thought he easily matched
Training Day here and was pretty much pitch perfect throughout. Duvall as the hostage negotiator is also superb, and Liotta's police chief too. But yet again, I wouldn't have expected anything else. I would however, have hoped for a little originality and focus.
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