Retro Review: John Q (2002)

Chike Coleman delivers a retro review of the film he believes to have the best performance of Denzel Washington's career.

Hospitalizations can be tough. I should know. I went through many of them as a child due to an immune deficiency that I still aggressively fight today.  One film that continually showed me that fighting for my health will always be possible came in the form of the movie John Q.  Movie fans often talk about Malcolm X being the best role that Denzel Washington ever put to screen. This Nick Cassavetes feature puts that film on notice.

John Q tells the story of a man at the end of his rope because he has a heart issue that will lead to his death if he doesn’t get a transplant very soon. The film’s main issue is that the medical insurance doesn’t cover such an expensive procedure, and neither the hospital nor the health insurance company is willing to help John save his son. As a result of many people’s inaction, John goes into the hospital and takes hostages until they can find a way to save his dying son.

I really don’t have to give any more details than that to tell you.  This was one of the most moving films I saw in my young life up until that point. Denzel Washington gives the best performance of his career because he’s not trying to do any of his normal traits. There is no cockiness to this character. There is no bravado. Plain and simple, you’re just watching a man suffer, knowing that he is using the only tools he knows to get people’s attention.  It is profoundly sad to watch a man struggle to save someone he cares about. What is more frustrating is watching everyone around John pacify the importance of what he is struggling with and the goal he is trying to achieve.

What makes this film so remarkable is how the people who are kidnapped slowly realize how important this one father’s goal is and that if they were in his shoes, they would also make the same sacrifice.  I’m sure many of you wondered how a movie like this fits into Black History Month?  This film fits into that month because it spotlights how the medical system works against those who happened to be people of color and how that disregard for them can have a fundamental impact on not only how they view the world but what they do to change their own circumstances.

While the movie John Q is an extreme example, it is but one story that highlights the frustrations that exist medically within the black community and if you think that this kind of glass ceiling start existing after 2000 to just Google search how many operations were denied because of the lack of financial ability for the struggling family or person to pay the medical need.  This is something that continues to happen that still deserves a voice then I was happy to see in 2002.

I honestly don’t know how a movie like this would be made today. However, its importance in black culture can never be understated primarily because there are plenty of black families still struggling to get the needs they have met by either the healthcare system or the state they live in. John Q had a happy ending, but the movie’s more important message is the fact that it continually has to take place for that happy ending to even be a possibility, and that’s what we should all be thinking about every time we see this film.  I know I constantly am, and I hope you will be too.

Written by
Chike has been a film critic in Illinois for the last 10 years with Urbana Public Television. Most of his work can be found on their YouTube channel where his show Reel Reviews is posted. The films he enjoys most are the kind that surprise you with characters that are deeper than you could ever suspect. As much as he loves reviewing it’s the stories that are unexpected that bring him the most joy. He lives in Champaign with his parents surrounded by cornfields.

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