The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday March 25th

Socially Conscious 'John Q' Takes Health Care Hostage

3 Stars

If your child were desperately ill and in need of a heart transplant, how far would you go to make sure he received the necessary treatment? This situation is what Denzel Washington finds himself dealing with in his most recent film, "John Q."

Washington plays a poor factory worker in desperate need of money to support his family. John Q. Archibald's life is turned upside down when it is determined that his son needs a heart transplant, a surgery that costs upward of $250,000.

John tries everything he can think of to raise the money. His insurance doesn't cover procedures of such magnitude, and because he does have insurance, he is not eligible to receive aid from Medicare and other similar agencies.

When the hospital decides to release his son, John does something drastic --he holds the emergency room hostage.

The movie goes downhill from this point. The only thing that holds it together is excellent acting on the parts of Washington and Robert Duvall, who plays Frank Grimes, the policeman in charge of the situation.

After John takes over the emergency room, the film becomes very predictable. John's actions seem to follow the typical path of a man holding people hostage, despite Washington's good acting.

He threatens the police, saying he will kill the hostages, and he refuses to argue with negotiator Grimes.

But there are still a few surprises, most notably John's kindness toward the people he is holding hostage. He even lets a wounded victim into the emergency room after he has taken control.

The film itself, however, appears to be an extended editorial on the health- care system of the United States and the flaws present in it. The filmmakers succeed in making their point, but only at the cost of including it in scenes where it doesn't belong.

In one scene, John is talking to his hostages about HMOs and the problems they cause for the health-care system. This scene seems forced and is not necessary considering that the movie is entirely about one man's struggle with the system.

But the most disappointing aspect of the film is how people of authority are represented.

The film assumes the stereotype that people in charge will abuse their power and will always put their personal goals over all else.

For example, when the chief of police comes in and takes over the situation for Grimes, his demeanor is completely stereotypical of a police chief.

Instead of waiting things out as Grimes would prefer, the police chief decides to attempt to end things quickly by sending in a sniper to kill John.

His reason for this, as he explains to Grimes, is that he does not want to hurt his own image in an election year. He never thinks about what would be best for John.

Despite all of this, the film manages to maintain some amount of interest.

Most people can relate to the type of situation that John has found himself in, and despite the absurdity of his actions, you still find yourself rooting for him.

And while "John Q." might need a little medical attention of its own, the film holds together. If nothing else, this movie has plenty of heart.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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