Political Film Society - Newsletter #127 - March 10, 2002

March 10, 2002


John QJohn Q.
is an exposé about the 40 million Americans who have no health insurance and millions more who belong to health maintenance organizations (HMOs) that provide phony health insurance. The hero, John Quincy Archibald (played by Denzel Washington), is a family man, a churchgoer, and a well qualified skilled laborer. One day his son Mikey (played by Daniel E. Smith) falls to the ground during a Little League game. After taking him to the emergency room of Hope Hospital in Chicago, he and his spouse Denise (played by Kimberly Elise) learn from Dr. Turner (played by James Woods) that their son will die unless he has a heart transplant. Despite yearly checkups, in which his heart was not part of the examination so that the HMO could cut costs and rebate physicians for doing so, he is now on the verge of death. But neither John Q. nor his spouse have insurance coverage for a $75,000 down payment for a heart transplant or for the $250,000 full cost, as required by hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (played by Anne Heche). Despite an insurance appeal, an application for Medicaid, and other options, neither the government nor the insurance company will help; a crusading television reporter also turns him down. One day, after Denise informs John Q. that the hospital is about to discharge Mikey as a patient, John Q. arrives with a gun to take over management of the emergency room until his son can receive a needed transplant; several hospital personnel, patients waiting for emergency care, and Dr. Turner are hostages. Enter the Chicago police, led by Frank Grimes (played by Robert Duvall), who has spent thirty-five years negotiating with those who hold hostages, a gaggle of news reporters, and a crowd of wellwishers.

Although Grimes tries to calm John Q. down, the heightened media publicity prompts police chief Monroe (played by Ray Liotta) to countermand Grimes by sending a police sniper to kill John Q., an effort that fails. Nevertheless, with tears down her cheeks, Payne decides to authorize a heart transplant, to be fully paid by the hospital, provided that a donor can be found soon. Accordingly, John Q. decides to kill himself so that his own heart can be used. Meanwhile, a driver killed in a crash with a truck has a heart that is suitable for Mikey's transplant. The drama then consists of which heart will be transplanted, as John Q. does not know about the incoming heart, but after the successful operation, John Q. is put on trial, exonerated of attempted murder (his gun had no bullets) but found guilty of taking hostages. John Q. begins with platitudes by President George W. Bush proved false as the film progresses and ends with a montage of statements about the failure of the American health care system but does not depict the real villains in the insurance industry. Much of the film, including the montage, has an annoying music score, perhaps intended to give audiences a headache. Filmviewers are encouraged by Payne to write members of Congress and chided by one talk-show commentator for failing to do so. The screenwriter, James Kearns, was inspired to write the story after reading a new item in 1994 in which a heart transplant recipient admitted that he would be dead if he were not rich. As a film demonstrating, however crudely, how the politics of the health insurance industry impacts ordinary Americans, the Political Film Society has nominated John Q., directed by Nick Cassavetes, as best film exposé of 2002 and best film on the need for greater democracy and human rights. MH

Among the most recently released films are American Adobo, which focuses on problems among Filipino Americans, Hart's War deals with racism in a German POW camp, and Little Otik satirizes the oral personality.