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John Q. (2002)

Starring Denzel Washington, Kimberly Elise, Robert Duvall, James Woods,
Anne Heche, Ray Liotta

Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Screenplay by James Kearns

New Line Cinema

Rated PG-13

Nursing rating 2 1/2 stars

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Artistic rating 1 1/2 stars

John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington) is a struggling, churchgoing factory worker whose son Michael will soon die without a heart transplant. However, John's HMO covers little of the estimated $250,000 cost, and despite valiant efforts, John, his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) and their community can't raise the deposit the stony hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche) requires to put Michael on the transplant list. As the boy slips toward death, John takes over the hospital's emergency room at gunpoint, threatening to start killing hostages (including cardiac surgeon Raymond Turner (James Woods)) unless his son is put on the list. The standoff turns into a national media circus, and John becomes a hero to practically everyone, including most of his own hostages, for standing up to an unjust system to try to save his son. Only Payne and the local police, led by veteran hostage negotiator Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) and the ambitious chief Gus Monroe (Ray Liotta), seem slow to understand the nobility of John's blue-collar terrorism.

Some may find it hard to dislike a movie that so earnestly tackles one of the injustices of the managed care era, and the filmmakers probably deserve some credit for doing that. Unfortunately, it's also hard to avoid the conclusion that "John Q."'s implausible plot, weak writing, moral obtuseness and cynical manipulation add up to a piece of liberal propaganda that does a disservice to the cause it seeks to promote. The excellent cast, led by Washington, takes the film farther than it has any right to go, but even they can't redeem its fundamental dishonesty and sentimentality.

"John Q" generally pays little attention to accuracy or balance in depicting health care activities. Even so, the character who is most identifiable as a nurse is a kind, knowledgeable ICU nurse (actor unknown) who explains to John and Denise some aspects of their son's condition and care. This is a minor character, but his sensitivity and skill in communicating complex health information in a way the patient's parents can understand--which the cardiac surgeon Turner struggled with--make a very favorable impression. Arguably the character is unrealistically positive, but the actor does a fine job and it may be unfair to expect more nuance in such a small role. The character certainly is a good role model for nurses.


Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed December 31, 2002

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.

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