Tuesday, 28 August 2012

John Q, dir. Nick Cassavetes, wr. James Kearns, st. Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Ray Liotta

If nothing else, John Q is a film full of noble intent. Propelled by a searing performance by Washington, it tells the story of John Archibald, a blue collar worker who finds himself at the mercy of the system when his health insurance denies him the assets with which to pay for a life-saving heart transplant for his son Michael. Refusing to see his son die, John holds up a hospital and demands his son be placed at the top of the donor list. This is just the first in a whole raft of flaws that deny us any sense of real sympathy for John's plight. The film is plagued by a series of overwrought moments of clunky emotional gurning and 'door-slam' sound effects that needlessly punctuate key scenes, but worst of all, by reducing the desperately important debate over free medical care to a hostage situation and the ensuing media circus in which mindless onlookers cheer for John without really knowing what it is he's doing, things border on the absurd and the film's political message is damned. Predictably, Washington is on fine form here, but the terrific calibre of the supporting cast is marred by the unrealistic and two-dimensional characters they are expected to play; Robert Duvall's hostage-negotiator manages to get out what feels like 5% of his original lines, Anne Heche as the hospital administrator has a remarkably unlikely change of heart at the film's finale for no other reason than she seems to be moved by Washington's performance in the film, and Ray Liotta's pompous police chief elicits a helpful booing from the gathering crowd outside Q's hospital, you know, just in case we've forgotten how we're supposed to feel about him. Interestingly enough, everything - the door-slams, the overdriven empathic music, the police commander swanning in to take charge - have all recently been masterfully satirised in Charlie Brooker's Touch Of Cloth which aired last night, so it was quite possibly a mistake on my part to watch these two consecutively. There's serious commentary to be aired about a state's moral obligation to look after its citizens; unfortunately John Q, like its namesake, finds its application denied.