John Q is an overly sentimental film containing serious commentary about the health insurance industry. For a star-powered vehicle, it is filled with bad acting and dialogue, but that didn't dampen its emotional appeal at the viewing I attended.
John Archibald (Denzel Washington) and his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) are having trouble making ends meet. To make matters worse, their son Mike (Daniel Smith) collapses playing baseball and requires a heart transplant that would cost them $250,000. As he works through the paperwork, John discovers that his insurance doesn't cover this procedure and the hospital that Mike is admitted to refuses to put his name on the donor list.
After being nagged by his wife (perhaps understandably, but it didn't work for me in the film), John decides to do something about his situation: he takes an emergency ward hostage until his son's name is put on the donor list for a heart transplant. Fortunately for Mike, there's a somewhat reckless driver with the same blood type who just lost her life, while keeping her heart intact.
The American Hollywood tradition is that in movies it's okay to stand up for an emotionally powerful cause even if it means risking innocent lives (even though I suspect most people wouldn't support actions like John's if it happened in the real world). The movie ends well and John gets off fairly lightly, after bonding with his hostages.
Denzel Washington's performance was very good, but almost everyone else just grated (as characters and as actors). Daniel Smith as Mike was annoying with his wrestling antics; Robert Duvall and Ray Liotta looked like they were still in the sets of Gone in 60 Seconds and Hannibal respectively; James Woods simply doesn't pull of the transformation from a bad heart surgeon (he initially washes his hands off the whole affair) to a good heart surgeon ("if there's a heart to be transplanted, by gosh I'm going to do it"). Anne Heche does portray a bureaucratic hospital administrator well, perhaps too successfully.
The problem with managed health care (HMOs) is addressed only tangentially, with a small point that Mike's problem could potentially have been detected if proper testing was done. This is one of the major problems with the health and insurance industries and if you're on an HMO plan, it behooves you to be aware of your own health and ask the doctor to make the required tests. Failing that, there are plans (with a higher premium) that'll provide the care you need. The bigger and more general problem, that of universal health care for those who can't afford quality insurance, which is convoluted by the HMO issue in the film, is addressed directly with a lot of preaching, but no real solutions are proposed.
John Q is emotionally manipulative and doesn't do justice to the topics it addresses. In the end, it's more about one person than a major problem in society. I recommend waiting for this on video.