john q.(2002)
director: nick cassavetes
denzel washington, anne heche, robert duvall

. Until America went to war, the most potentially divisive issue that faced the Bush presidency was health care. John Q. was obviously meant to hit that hot topic button, and might have hoped to make it an issue worth public debate, if only there wasnít a war, and if it were only a better film.

Denzel Washington plays the title character, a decent man Ė or so itís painfully pointed out to us in the films winsome opening scenes Ė who has the bad luck to be blue collar in a white collar world. When his son Ė a wonderful kid, or so itís so painstakingly established Ė is hospitalized with a weak heart, Washington discovers that his health plan has been changed, and that heís no longer covered for the astronomical cost of a transplant. 

Driven to the edge by his heartless HMO and petty hospital officials (Anne Heche and James Woods), he takes the hospital emergency ward hostage, demanding the heart his son needs. The police arrive in the form of a SWAT team, hostage negotiator Robert Duvall (an autopilot performance) and vain, bloodthirsty police chief Ray Liotta. The ensuing film is one part Frank Capra, one part Dog Day Afternoon.

Director Nick Cassevetes, son of John Cassavetes, has shown himself, with films like Sheís So Lovely and Unhook the Stars, to be unaccountably untouched by his fatherís dour yet unpredictable talent. John Q. is drama by numbers, rigorously and almost insultingly predictable, except for the wholly unlikely ending, which manages to squander what might have been a really brutal and downbeat setup for the filmís political message.

As the film points out, almost 50 million Americans have no health coverage, and in spite of its political and economic preeminence, America hasnít seen fit to offer its citizens anything like comprehensive health care. Itís a situation that might have made fertile ground for a furiously populist indictment, instead of a rote, homiletic, and ultimately condescending story about "little people", played with the usual slipshod glamour by Hollywood stars.