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By Heather Wadowski | February 15, 2002

There are numerous clichés around about how “when push comes to shove, desperate times call for desperate measures.” But how far would you go to save the life of someone you love? Would you risk the lives of others? Would you give up everything you own? Or would you go even one step further and give up your own life?
That is the question asked in New Line Cinema’s action-drama, “John Q.” The movie focuses on a working-class couple that’s put to the test when their only son is diagnosed with a fatal heart-condition. When their insurance company refuses to pay for the heart transplant the child desperately needs, the boy’s father (Washington) must decide how far he will go to save his son’s life. With time and options running out, he decides to take the hospital his child is about to be thrown out of hostage until his son gets the treatment he needs to survive. Rather than being seen as a mad man though, John Q, as he is called, quickly becomes a local hero when his story not only captures a hospital full of people’s hearts, but the public’s as well.
Although the premise to “John Q.” may sound a bit cheesy, screenwriter James Kearns delivers an emotional, heart-wrenching story that not only takes viewers on a journey within their own souls, but also opens up their eyes to the way the health care system works. From the first 10 minutes of the film viewers will be sucked in to the love Washington’s character has for his son (played by feature film newcomer Daniel E. Smith). Whether or not viewers have kids of their own, it’s easy to understand the bond Washington and Smith have because almost everyone has that type of bond with someone in their life. Watching Washington struggle to maintain his own sanity for the sake of his dying son will not only have viewers wondering how they would act in a similar situation, but also will instantly have audiences siding with John Q. Furthermore, the fact that John Q. has no intentions of really hurting anyone but himself to save his son helps viewers cheer him on since they know deep down inside he’s not crazy, he’s just a father whose back is up against a wall.
While Kearns writes a deeply moving story, it’s director Nick Cassavetes that executes his vision perfectly. Cassavetes– who has a young daughter of his own that’s had four major heart surgeries– took a special interest in “John Q” and it shows. Directing a cast of A-list actors that include Washington, Robert Duvall, Ray Liotta and James Woods, Cassavetes lends his own heartbreak to the film to help make it such a touching story. While anyone could have directed this picture, having someone who understands where John Q is coming from only makes the film more powerful.
“John Q.” isn’t just another movie that’s sole purpose is to tug on viewers’ heartstrings though– it is also suspenseful and educational. Audiences will never truly know if John’s actions will get his son the heart he needs or even if John will get out of the situation alive. Additionally, while the film is filled with heartbreak and suspense, it’s also filled with interesting facts about the way insurance companies– and especially HMOs– work. Viewers will find the discussions on the health care system not only intriguing, but also quite frightening.
No matter how engaging a film is, however, believable acting is always needed for viewers to be able to relate to the characters. Luckily for “John Q,” this isn’t an area the film falls short in. Washington plays the flawed hero perfectly and carries the audience’s sympathy with him no matter what his actions. Similarly, audiences will be able to relate to Anne Heche as the hospital administrator who turns John’s son away from getting the attention he needs for financial reasons. Despite the fact that she could easily be seen as the villain in the film, Heche plays her character so convincingly that viewers will be able to see her side of the story as well.
Although it has a few cliched moments that will briefly take viewers out of the emotional story at hand, “John Q” is one of the most moving and entertaining films to hit theaters in a long time. While some people may not like the idea of spending practically two-hours straight crying, “John Q.” is well worth the tears.

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