JOHN Q - DVD review


Released during the early months of 2002 to capitalize on Denzel Washington's Oscar heat for his role in 2001's "Training Day", "John Q." powered its way to $71 million at the North American box office. The actor's Oscar victory and the film's surprise commercial success (box-office prognosticators did not believe that a story about one man's fight against the health-care system to get his son a heart transplant would strike audiences' fancy) combined to affirm Washington's leading man status. Word-of-mouth probably gave the movie theatrical legs because Washington's star power and the filmmakers' involving style make for an always engrossing watch. However, despite a very promising start, the movie quickly descends into a hodgepodge of clichés, false climaxes, unrealistic coincidences, and unbelievable changes of heart (no pun intended).

This is the second New Line film in a row that I have reviewed in which the hero of the movie takes on "the system", the other one being "I Am Sam". Both screenplays begin with a decent man being ill-treated by officious personnel who don't seem to be sympathetic to the hard luck of the unfortunate. Yet, as both stories progress, the heroes become more and more irrational, irritating, and downright unlikable while the defenders of "the system" seem more and more reasonable, good-natured, kind-hearted, and sympathetic. Odd, huh?

In "John Q.", Washington plays a father who's been downgraded from 40 hours a week to 20 hours at work due to the economic climate. His wife's car has been repossessed by the bank, and his insurance coverage has been downgraded due to his newly part-time status. Thus, when his son collapses on the baseball field from an enlarged heart, John Q. Archibald finds himself unable to pay for a heart transplant operation that costs at least $250,000.

The initially ambitious screenplay tackles huge issues, including health-care availability to the underprivileged, collusions between insurance companies and health-care providers, and healing rather than simply stabilizing the sick. The movie attempts to solve John Q.'s problems by demonizing everyone (except for his family) and having him hold an emergency room hostage until somebody gets a viable heart into his son's chest cavity. Strong performances by Washington, James Woods (as the chief cardiac surgeon), Anne Heche (as the hospital's chief administrator), Robert Duvall (as the hostage negotiator), and Ray Liotta (as the police chief) are undermined by the cheap shots taken at their characters. For example, the police chief behaves like any man in his position would do, but for no apparent reason other than to make him into an ugly, the script has him mention that it's an election year. There's been NOTHING prior to this moment that indicates that the police chief is a political opportunist, so why would a politically savvy individual incriminate himself by admitting that it's election year?

Ultimately, we end up watching a movie that betrays its own good intentions and professional craftsmanship by degenerating into a melodrama where everyone, including John Q.'s hostages, comes to agree with his position. Sure, Duvall's hostage negotiator disagrees with John Q.'s methods, but he seems to do so only because his job requires him to shake a stern finger at terrorist actions. You know, there's something called the "Stockholm Syndrome", where captives identify with their captors. By its end, "John Q." feels like it suffers from its own version of "Stockholm Syndrome", falling under the sway of a charismatic, persuasive, but egregiously wrong character.

Following in the footsteps of "Thirteen Days", "15 Minutes", "Blow", and "Rush Hour 2", "John Q." arrives on DVD with the trappings of New Line's infinifilm series.

New Line's video transfers just get better and better. Sporting a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image, the DVD's video is near-flawless. A well-lit lighting scheme dominates the movie, so everything looks clear, well-rendered, natural. I didn't notice any source defects (physical impairments to the film print itself), and I didn't notice any glaring problems with the video compression. Were it not for the fact that I've seen the digital miracles achieved by "Final Fantasy" and Pixar's movies ("Toy Story", "Toy Story 2") or the burnished beauty of "Pearl Harbor", I would've rated this video presentation a "10".

There are 3 primary audio tracks on the DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, DD 2.0 surround English, and DTS 5.1 English. "John Q." isn't an action extravaganza, but the DVD offers a beautifully wide soundstage. The music score fills the room courtesy of very active rear speakers, and rich cello sounds emanate from the subwoofer. There are quite a few panning and directionality effects, and everything sounds crisp and clear. This is as good as a small-scale drama sounds on DVD.

English closed captions support the audio.

Those of you familiar with New Line's recent DVD products know that the extras on non-infinifilm DVDs are labeled as All-Access Pass features. The infinifilm line also offers Beyond the Movie features that take viewers to materials that discuss the film's subject matter in the real world, removed from the context of fictionalized filmmaking. In my opinion, though, the best things about infinifilm are the help tips that are scattered throughout the menus. New Line's DVD team carefully explains concepts such as the widescreen format, audio options, DVD extras, etc. (I hope that New Line will consider adding these "question mark" icons to all of their DVDs so that viewers unfamiliar with the format can learn to enjoy fully all that the disc has to offer.)

The primary extra on this DVD is the infinifilm experience itself. Basically, when you select the infinifilm option, you will see a graphical interface pop up at the bottom of your monitor during the movie. The graphical interface allows you to access an item related to what is happening in the movie at that point in its running time. The infinifilm mode accesses the other supplements on the disc (which explains why infinifilm documentaries fade to back every couple of minutes--they're broken into parts easily accessed by the software).

--All-Access Pass--
First things first, there's a group audio commentary by director Nick Cassavetes, screenwriter James Kearns, producer Mark Burg, cinematographer Rogier Stoffers, and actress Kimberly Elise. Although there are 5 people sharing the microphone, the participants respectfully share the stage with one another. Given the serious nature of the subject matter, the speakers don't resort to fun or glib remarks. Instead, they offer serious thoughts about how they approached the project. For example, Cassavetes informs viewers that his daughter suffers from congenital heart disease, and having seen his child go through numerous operations, he wanted to direct "John Q." as soon as he read the screenplay.

Next up is "Behind the Scenes of ‘John Q.'", a making-of featurette that shows some behind-the-scenes footage from the production. There are 6 deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary by Cassavetes. From these scenes, one can see how judicious trims here and there helped the story move along from one point to the next (but I still say that there are too many "will he/will he not" moments" in "John Q."). Finally, you can enjoy the film's theatrical trailer and a theatrical press kit--text pages reproducing cast/crew/production information sent to the media to promote the film's theatrical release.

--Beyond the Movie--
The "Fighting for Care" documentary was created specifically for inclusion on the DVD. The documentary takes a look at the health care system as well as the bureaucracy that governs the distribution of organs for transplant operations.

Viewers can watch the film with a "Fact Track" subtitle stream that displays information about relevant reality-based facts that have to do with the action in the movie. One of the interesting facts revealed in the "Fact Track" is that the decrease in the number of auto accidents is a leading contributor to the shortage of available organs.

On the main menu, clicking on the New Line logo will access the DVD's production credits.

DVD-ROM features include a "Script-to-Screen" function (read the screenplay while the movie plays in a window), the film's original website, and weblinks.

A glossy booklet provides information concerning infinifilm DVDs as well as chapter listings.

Entertainment Value:
I'm a big fan of the innovation that the infinifilm concept brings to the DVD format. My one gripe about infinifilm is their lack of subtitles. Otherwise, I applaud New Line's enthusiastic approach to realizing the potential of DVD.

How does the "John Q." DVD compare to the "Thirteen Days", "15 Minutes", "Blow", and "Rush Hour 2" DVDs? Well, one can't help but think that this release feels a bit lightweight after being swamped by the features on the other discs. The bonus materials are rather straightforward pieces, the kind of things that you see on other DVDs. Still, the infinifilm technology does sweeten the entire package. As for the movie, I wish that the filmmakers had given "John Q." a more plausible second act and a resolution that didn't seem so pat. I mean, are we supposed to cheer the actions of a hostage-taker who shuts down an emergency room for the sake of one person? I hope not.


Film Value