Making the Grades
"I DIDN'T WANT TO MAKE a political film," attests Nick Cassavetes, the director of John Q. in a Variety interview.
Unless Cassavetes didn't read the script to this drama/thriller, his comment simply epitomizes the film industry's attitude whenever it makes an issues movie: Gosh folks... it's just entertainment. (From the same Variety piece, producer Oren Koules says, "We tried to take a serious movie and make it as commercial as we can." Two points for honesty.)
Yet the line between entertainment and issue is crossed when a desperate John Q. (Denzel Washington) takes a surgeon and patients at gunpoint because the hospital is refusing to provide his son with a heart transplant unless the family can come up with a quarter of a million-dollars. Between Washington's winning performance and his wife's (Kimberly Elise) pleas that he do anything he can to prevent their child being sent home to die, we can't help but feel for the guy.
Masterfully building empathy with the audience, Cassavetes (himself having a daughter with a congenital heart defect) fills the emergency room with the perfect selection of hostages, like a woman battered by her boyfriend, a lady in labor, and some medical personnel who are eager to explain the system's shortcomings. Providing plenty of opportunities to show his sensitive side, the hostages are quick to sympathize with the man with a cause--even if he's holding a weapon. Outside, Police Chief Monroe (Ray Liotta), worried about looking good on TV and prepping for the next election, wants a quick finish. But his seasoned hostage negotiator (Robert Duvall) holds hope for a peaceful end--and a heart transplant.
Frequent profanities (including a sexual expletive), threats with guns and fists (including a man wanting to shoot himself), along with the very tense situation play second to the top concern in this movie--the notion that a gun can make "the system" respond to your needs.
Closing with a montage of real-life celebrities rallying in support of universal health care, John Q. will leave many debating whether it promotes equality or rampant vigilantism. Either way, it's all about politics.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about John Q.
Was John Q. justified? When are we justified in breaking the law to claim our rights as individuals?
In what ways does a democratic society allow us to make sure our rights as individuals are protected? How do elections fit into this answer? Why is it important to exercise your democratic rights in order to improve or change “The System?”
In this movie, the media are responsible for helping generate public support for John Q. In reality, do you think media coverage can help or put the hostages at greater risk? Does media coverage encourage or discourage people to commit crimes?
Why would the director choose to include actual celebrities and politicians near the end of the film? What other methods are used to make you believe you are witnessing a “real” situation?