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028: John Q

Maximilian Rivera October 4, 2016
by Max Rivera | @MaxRiveraFilm

Premise: John Quincy Archibald takes a hospital emergency room hostage after his insurance won’t cover his son’s heart transplant.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 23%


Every now and then a film goes out of its way to beat you up with its message. John Q. (2002) is one of those films.

Starring the always great Denzel Washington, John Q. was directed by Nick Cassavetes, and also stars Robert Duvall, Anne Heche, and Ray Liotta. It was rated 23% by top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but earned a 78% from the audience score. Obviously, there was a divide, and we wanted to get to the bottom of it.

All we could really figure out is that Denzel’s performance was so strong, it kept viewers entertained and engaged. There are moments he carries the story, but he does almost all of the work for this film.


The plot isn’t terrible, the acting isn’t even that bad. The beats are just so on the nose that the film becomes unbearable fast.  

The film starts with us living through the hardships of the Archibald family. A repossessed car, a job with reduced hours, and all the while, John himself can’t get new work because he’s too overqualified. It’s the age old story of beating someone when they’re down.

And boy, does that film do that. We see the Archibald family suffer their hardships, but find time for love and affection between it. 

But at the little league game, John’s son falls as he’s stealing the bases — a trip to the ER later, and the Archibald family knows their dilemma. Michael, John’s son, has an enlarged heart. If he doesn’t get a transplant, he’ll surely die. 


Long story short, John’s insurance won’t cover the transplant, and the hospital grows tired of caring for Michael as John raises the funds. Once John learns his son is getting discharged, he takes the law into his own hands.

John takes the hospital’s cardiologist hostage, as well as the entire emergency room. What happens next is the most ridiculous hostage scenario you’ve ever seen. 

John Q. is a film that means well, and it has an interesting story at its core — how far would a parent sacrifice them self for their child? It’s a topic that always tugs the heartstrings, and my guess is the audience agreed as a whole that John Q. hit the proper emotional beats. 

Hit is an understatement. Let’s go with beat. It beats its message into you until you need to be hospitalized. 


At one point, John decides he’s going to commit suicide so that his son can get his heart. Everybody is really against this, and we as the audience knew it would never happen. But imagine a film with Denzel Washington where he actually does this? Can I live in that reality?

All-in-all, John Q. is rated right where it should be. With more subtle writing, and a more nuanced character, John Q. could be a classic. We’re just glad it’s not Accidental Love

If you think we’re complete idiots and that John Q. is the best movie ever made, let us know at TheCriticalBreakdownPodcast@gmail.com

Max is a marketing copywriter by day, filmmaker and screenwriter by night. He resides in Charlotte, NC, and loves his dogs, watching movies, building LEGO sets, and eating food. Lots of food.You can find Max at his personal website and twitter.