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Nick Cassavetes
Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, Kimberly Elise, Eddie Griffin, Shawn Hatosy, Anne Heche, Ray Liotta, James Woods, Daniel E. Smith
James Kearns

Give a father no options and you leave him no choice.
Box Office:
Budget $36 million.
Opening weekend $23.612 million on 2466 screens.
Domestic gross $71.026 million.
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and intense thematic elements.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 7/16/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Nick Cassavetes, Screenwriter James Kearns, producer Mark Burg, director of photography Rogier Stoffers, and actress Kimberly Elise
• “Fighting For Care” Documentary
• infinifilm Fact Track
• “Behind the Scenes of John Q.
• Trailer
• Original Theatrical Press Kit
• DVD-ROM Features
• Deleted/Alternate Scenes With Director’s Commentary


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John Q: infinifilm (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

I like Denzel Washington. I like Robert Duvall. I like James Woods. So why didn’t I like John Q.? Perhaps because it proves that terrific talent can make poor choices, as this crass and manipulative drama totally left me cold despite strong performers and an intriguing storyline.

Factory worker John Q. Archibald (Washington) hits hard times. He loses half his hours at the job, so he and wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) run into financial problems. These intensify when son Mike (Daniel E. Smith) collapses at a baseball game and they discover he requires a heart transplant. This will cost $250,000 but John’s insurance won’t cover it. As exemplified by administrator Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche) and chief cardiologist Dr. Turner (Woods), the hospital shows little sympathy. John contacts every possible source of assistance but gets little help, and eventually the hospital plans to discharge Mike.

As his wife screams at him to “do something”, John finally reaches the breaking point. He takes his gun and holds Turner and others hostage in the emergency room. This starts a stand-off between John and the police, led by negotiator Frank Grimes (Duvall) and Chief Monroe (Ray Liotta). The rest of the film traces this confrontation. Crowds amass outside the hospital, the material hits the news, and John becomes an immediate folk hero.

Because I’d like to say something positive about John Q., I will acknowledge that its heart is in the right place. Health care in America clearly suffers from a myriad of problems, and no one seems able to adequately address these. People get screwed left and right by the system, and I expect the situation will further deteriorate before it improves. Not many feature films tackle this sort of issue, so I applaud the filmmakers’ attempts to do so.

If only they hadn’t created such a brain-dead and knee-jerk movie. This one’s for all the middle Americans who love to rail against bureaucracy and big government, since we see what a mess all the red tape and rules have made of things. Of course, the only way a kid like Mike could get adequate service would be to expand governmental domain, but the movie ignores that element. Power to the people, baby! If you don’t get your way, threaten to kill someone!

Instead of the measured character drama it could have been, John Q. decides to go down the thriller path. The clock ticks towards Mike’s inevitable demise, and the movie uses a heart rate meter to conveniently count down toward his death. The bureaucrats who won’t operate on Mike due to the lack of coverage need moustaches to twirl and the picture will be complete; they get little room to become anything other than stock baddies, at least until the end, when they nonsensically experience complete changes of heart. On the other side, we’re forced to totally empathize with John, and there’s little room for discussion; never mind the illegality and immorality of his surgery at gunpoint, he’s supposed to be our hero and that’s that.

Unfortunately, the baldly manipulative characters don’t always work the way the filmmakers might like. I think mostly of Elise’s turn as wife Denise. Despite all of the pain she experiences with her ailing son, she actually comes across as rather unsympathetic much of the time. The filmmakers want so badly to continually dump on John that they unwittingly make her part of the problem. She directly spurs the kidnapping with her shrill commands for him to “do something”, and she also badgers him unmercifully when he runs into job problems. For one of the lead “good guys”, she really seems like a cold and unlikable personality.

Not a single character in John Q. feels like anything other than a stereotype. Duvall’s Grimes offers the standard grizzled vet being bumped out by the cocky younger folks, as represented by the stupidly brash and irresponsible Chief Monroe. The TV reporter is nothing more than a better-looking version of Dick Thornburg (William Atherton) in Die Hard, and the detained patients in the emergency room fare no better. There’s a smug and racist rich kid who beats his girlfriend, a Latino woman who speaks no English, and a self-righteous resident. Eddie Griffin’s streetwise Lester actually asks for a bucket of chicken at one point!

That was only one of many moments during which I could scarcely believe my ears. To saddle an actor with the talent of Duvall with lines like “There’s only two ways out of here: jail or dead!” must violate any number of human rights regulations. And poor Denzel gets many of his own inanities to spew. At one point, John actually yells “Take my heart!” as the solution to the problem. Just when I thought the movie couldn’t get any more absurd and ridiculous, it found a way to sink even lower, and it just seemed dumber and dumber with every passing moment. For example, John tries to hide his identity from the authorities when he simply calls himself “John Q.”, but what point was there to that? Seconds later he demands transplant surgery for his kid - he didn’t think the cops would eventually figure out whose kid was his?

The actors try to muddle through this mess as well as they can, but all the talent in the world can’t make this pile palatable. John Q. consists of nothing more than emotional manipulation paired with moralizing speechifying. The movie hammers home its message in a blunt and moronic way that does nothing more than insult the viewer. Maybe someone enjoys this kind of exploitative slop, but I actively disliked the movie.

Bizarre trivia note: Simpsons fans will recognize the name “Frank Grimes”, as that character appeared on an episode during the 1996-97 season. Frank Grimes came to work at the power plant and literally frustrated himself to death due to the fact Homer gets away with his rampant incompetence. Coincidence? Probably, but the naming of the Duvall character amused me nonetheless.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B+ / Bonus B+

John Q. appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a couple of modest concerns, John Q. generally provided a very solid picture.

Sharpness seemed excellent. The movie consistently looked crisp and detailed. No signs of softness or fuzziness marred the distinct and accurate presentation. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did see a little edge enhancement at times. That issue never became severe, but it seemed noticeable enough to scrape a few points off my grade. Print flaws caused no problems, as I detected no examples of specks, grit, marks or other defects.

John Q. started with a vivid and natural palette but became cooler once the title character snapped and took his hostages. The DVD displayed all these tones well. The brighter colors seemed vibrant and lively, while the less saturated tones came across as distinct and solid. Black levels seemed deep and dense, but shadow detail occasionally appeared too heavy. All of those examples involved dark-skinned actors, and since folks with those features filled some of the primary roles, this could be an issue. For the most part, these shots were appropriately lit, but some of them looked too thick and impenetrable; I could barely see Washington’s face on a couple of occasions. Nonetheless, even with these concerns, I still felt that John Q. provided a very good picture.

I also liked the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks of John Q. However, I can’t say that I discerned any substantial differences between the two mixes. As I alternated between them, I detected no real variations; the two tracks sounded identical to me.

Although I figured this would be a quiet character drama, the audio offered surprisingly active fare. Music showed very good spread and involvement, as the score blended nicely into all five channels and became quite engrossing much of the time. The effects also moved around the room with unexpected vividness. Much of the audio remained anchored within the front channels, but those speakers showed good breadth and delineation. The surrounds also came to life neatly during many scenes, such as those with helicopters or sirens. The rear channels didn’t overwhelm the action but they complimented it well.

Audio quality generally seemed positive, though the sound appeared somewhat metallic at times. As a whole, the tracks lacked great warmth to the high-end registers, and that mainly affected speech, which occasionally came across as a bit thick and stiff. Lines remained crisp and easily intelligible, though, and I noticed no signs of edginess. Music worked best, as the score seemed vibrant and lively, with good bass response and clear highs. Effects showed some of the slightly shrill tones I mentioned, but they usually were acceptably clean and accurate. The entire package packed a very nice punch, as low-end consistently appeared deep and tight. The soundtracks of John Q. lost a few points due to the mild harshness, but they regained credit because of the solid bass and the engaging soundfield.

In John Q. we find the newest release in New Line’s well-regarded “infinifilm” line. The upcoming segment of the review will discuss the basics of the infinifilm format. If you already feel acquainted with it - or just don’t care to read my ramblings about it - skip ahead to the point where you see some underlined text; that will note the start of my discussion of the supplements found on John Q.

According to the insert that came with infinifilm DVDs:

An infinifilm DVD is a unique, one-of-a-kind viewer-directed experience. You’re in control of what you watch and when you view it!

Since the infinifilm DVDs disable some normal functions and only intermittently allow others, that statement seems ironic. It also makes little sense; when have I not been able to choose when and what I’d watch on a DVD? As far as I recall, none of my other discs came with a little man who put a gun to my head and forced me to check out certain segments.

Nonetheless, the “infinifilm” does offer a somewhat different form of presentation. From that same booklet blurb, here’s how the studio describes it:

The movie can also be experienced with the infinifilm option enabled, allowing you to access content specifically relating to the scenes via pop-up prompts that appear. Explore. Escape. Interact. Take your movie-watching experience to a whole new level. Go Beyond the Movie and discover the fascinating facts and intriguing stories surrounding your favorite films! Afterwards, you are returned to the movie right where you left off.

Once we get past the marketing hyperbole, what does all of this mean? In essence, the infinifilm feature functions along the same line as other “interactive” features that crop up during a movie. Other discs like the special edition of Dogma, Me, Myself and Irene, and Dinosaur used similar functions. When an icon appears onscreen, you press a button and get to watch something that relates to that part of the movie.

In the case of the infinifilm titles, this function becomes more extensive. The icon appears more frequently, since it pops up once per infinifilm chapter stop. While the non-infinifilm version offers 22 chapters, the infinifilm edition provides a whopping 40 stops, and different options appear with each one of those.

How useful is all of this? Moderately, I suppose, but it depends on your tolerance for interruptions. All of the materials accessible during the infinifilm edition can also be found in the standard roster of supplements; there doesn’t appear to be anything exclusive to the infinifilm feature. The advantage to accessing these via the infinifilm function stems from the fact that they’ll relate specifically to that section of the movie. It’s a cool way to make the movie more informative and immediate.

However, it could also be a distraction. It’s hard to get involved in a movie when you leave it every couple of minutes to see something else. Ultimately, however, I think the infinifilm concept is a good one. I can’t say that I’d want to use it while I watched a movie, for I think it’d disrupt the film too much. Nonetheless, I always support additional options, and since I’m not forced to use the feature - and since it makes none of the DVD’s extras exclusive to infinifilm, which would really irritate me - I’m more than happy to see this kind of feature.

One oddity: while the DVD offers menus for both the normal “Select a Scene” and the “infinifilm Select a Scene”, the latter features the same 22 chapter stops. While it’s nice that the disc broke down the sections in a more detailed manner, it makes no sense that 18 of the infinifilm chapters fail to appear.

One annoyance: while the infinifilm process is supposed to make DVDs even more interactive and user-friendly than ever, New Line omitted subtitles on John Q. and apparently all other titles in this line. Yes, it offered closed-captioning, but all DVDs really should have at least English subtitles available.

The special features split into two different areas: Beyond the Movie and All Access Pass. Under the Beyond the Movie category we found two pieces. First we encountered Fighting For Care, a 34-minute and 24-second documentary about the current realities of the health care system, particularly in regard to organ transplants. The show combines interviews with a mix of patients and medical professionals as it addresses the various issues involved. Though the program clearly emphasizes the negatives of the system, it does so in a reasonably dispassionate and objective way that allows it to function as information instead of propaganda. It presents the comments in a clear and concise manner that allows greater understanding.

My only complaint relates to the restraints of the infinifilm format. To facilitate the integration of the program into small bits that appear during the movie, the presentation chops up the segments into 22 bite-sized pieces. The material still works well, but it could definitely flow more smoothly.

Also under the “Beyond the Movie” domains came the infinifilm Fact Track. This text commentary used the subtitle area as it provided small factoids that appeared throughout the flick. I’ve enjoyed this kind of feature in the past, but it manifested itself awfully sporadically here. The facts involved related to health care, insurance, hostages, the law and other notions such as that; in keeping with the “Beyond the Movie” motif - which focuses on issues not related specifically to the making of the flick- the fact track provided no information about John Q. - and some of the details seemed useful.

However, the infrequency with which those appeared became frustrating. I doubt many people will want to try to attend to the film itself and read the fact track at the same time, as it could become very distracting. On the other hand, if you check out the movie just to examine the subtitles, you’ll feel irritated by the infrequent use of the feature.

Next we moved to the All Access Pass domain, which started with an audio commentary from director Nick Cassavetes, screenwriter James Kearns, producer Mark Burg, director of photography Rogier Stoffers, and actress Kimberly Elise. All five seem to have been recorded together for this running, screen-specific track, but occasions occurred during which I questioned if some parts were taped separately and then inserted.

Whatever the case may be, the five offered a generally engaging discussion of the film. On the negative side, periodic empty spaces popped up, especially during the second half. Some major blank spots appeared in the film’s last hour. I also thought the piece suffered from too much praise. That tendency seems inevitable for this sort of commentary, but it was a little heavy at times, and not just because I disliked the film.

Despite those issues, the commentary usually worked nicely, as the participants covered a good array of topics. Cassavetes discussed his personal motivations behind the film, and we also learned about some acting moments and other issues from the set. A little technical information appears as well, such as stylistic choices. The commentary for John Q. didn’t provide a terrific experience, but it reviewed the movie fairly well.

Next we find Behind the Scenes of John Q., a 16-minute and 53-second featurette about the movie. It packs the usual mix of movie scenes, behind the scenes material, and interview bits with director Nick Cassavetes, producer Mark Burg, heart transplant consultant Dr. Mehmet Oz, body effects designer Alec Gillis, and Denzel Washington, Kimberly Elise, Robert Duvall, Ray Liotta, Anne Heche, James Woods, and Daniel E. Smith. On the positive side, the shots from the set usually seemed interesting, and Woods and Washington tossed in some decent notes about their work.

However, the program included way too many film clips, especially since it was designed to be watched during the movie. Much of the interview footage appeared fairly bland, and the choppiness necessary for the infinifilm format also harmed the show; it split into 18 chapters, which meant each segment average less than a minute apiece. The show worked well enough to merit a viewing, but it could have been richer and more complex.

Within Deleted/Alternate Scenes, we get six different clips. These run between 67 seconds and nine minutes, 33 seconds for a total of 21 minutes and one second of footage. All of them appeared anamorphic 1.85:1 with either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Surround 2.0 audio. The clips seemed no better or worse than the material that made the final cut, but some were redundant or just went on too long. Still, they were interesting to see as alternate looks at the product.

The scenes can be viewed with commentary from director Cassavetes and writer Kearns. Both provided a lot of good information. They directly covered the reasons for the changes, and they added some nice production notes about the segments. Their statements added a lot to this segment of the package.

A few minor pieces round out the DVD. In addition to the film’s Theatrical Trailer - presented anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound - we get the Original Theatrical Press Kit. This includes three domains. “The Production” features stillframes with a lot of good, detailed text about the film. “The Cast” offers entries on actors Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Ray Liotta, Kimberly Elise, Eddie Griffin, Shawn Hatosy, and Daniel E. Smith. “The Filmmakers” adds listings for director Nick Cassavetes, producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules, executive producer Avram Butch Kaplan, screenwriter James Kearns, director of photography Rogier Stoffers, production designer Stefania Cella, costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, editor Dede Allen, and composer Aaron Zigman. For the most part, “The Cast” and “The Filmmakers” consist of annotated filmographies; a few deeper details appear, but not many.

In addition to all of this, John Q. adds some DVD-ROM materials. “Script to Screen” lets you read the original script while you watch the movie; the video runs in a small screen on the left as the text displays on the right half of the screen. We get a link to the movie’s “Original Website”. This packs the whole site onto the DVD, which makes it nicely easy to access.

On other DVDs, the “Hot Spot” sent you to a New Line site that apparently offers revolving pieces of information and activities. When I checked it out for other discs like Dungeons And Dragons, it went to a trivia game that asked questions about a variety of New Line films. However, as I write almost a month before John Q. hits stores, the link doesn’t work; hopefully it’ll become active when the DVD officially arrives. We also find a link to the official infinifilm Website.

Often laughable, usually inane, John Q. totally wastes a solid cast and an intriguing premise. The movie feels like a very bad episode of ER as it provides a moronically simplistic and manipulative experience. The DVD offers very good picture and sound and also includes a pretty positive roster of extras. For fans of the movie, I wholeheartedly recommend this solid DVD. I think others should leave it on the shelf and spare themselves the pain.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5714 Stars Number of Votes: 21
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