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John Q. is a 2002 crime film directed by Nick Cassavetes and starring Denzel Washington as the eponymous John Q. Archibald, a father whose son has just fallen victim to a terrible heart condition, which requires a transplant within a fairly short amount of time. Unfortunately for John, he soon finds out that due to his company's change in health coverage, his HMO will not allow compensation for the procedure. After expending all his other options in attempts to find financing for his son's operation, John makes a desperate choice by holding a hospital emergency room hostage until he is guaranteed an operation for his son.

The film also stars Robert Duvall as Lt. Frank Grimes, Anne Heche as Rebecca Payne, and James Woods as Dr. Raymond Turner.


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This film shows examples of:

  • Adult Fear: You see three sides of it:
    • Imagine you see your son collapsing during a baseball game. He has a weak heart and will need an expensive transplant. You have a Sadistic Choice of either watching him die at home or do all you can to raise the money and risk bankruptcy.
    • A desperate man takes a hospital hostage, filled with sick patients and scared medical personnel. Either you're inside, waiting to be released or treated, or you're outside, watching through newscasts.
    • Then there is John's wife. She gets caught in the middle of trying to save her son's life, and her husband becoming a hostage taker. All she can do is serve as a middle ground to prevent either from being killed.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Used to get into the emergency room.
  • And This Is for...: Has one scene involving a guy attempting to take down John Q while his girlfriend instead, mace sprays him and not John, in addition to kicking him down, even in the groin.
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  • Author Tract: The film is an extended parable against the American health industry, and is very heavy-handed in getting its message across. Whether this particular anvil needed to be dropped, of course, is entirely up to the viewer. Of course, the movie could be a way to make people aware of this issue and address the situation (Your Mileage Will Vary on how widespread the problem is in Real Life).
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: They sent a sniper to kill a guy talking with his family on the phone. While he had no hostage under weapon aim. Would it be to costly to give a non-fatal shot or use a tear gas grenade?! And they degrade to the point of telling him that his feelings for his son's death are meaningless.
  • Big "NO!": When a mother watches her kid die in the hospital.
  • Billy Needs an Organ: The central conflict of the film.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Michael gets the lifesaving heart transplant he needs, but it doesn't change the fact that John broke the law to make it happen, and he's going to prison for at least three years. On the plus side, all of John's former hostages testify on his behalf, and since he never planned on killing anybody, his lawyer might be able to get his sentence reduced to two years.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The woman who dies in the opening scene.
    • Also, newsman Tuck Lampley. John and Jimmy go to see him about a public appeal for Michael long before the hostage situation. He's the first reporter on the scene, and he helps shape the media narrative painting John as a desperate everyman rather than a ruthless criminal, and his cameraman hacking and broadcasting the security footage is the only way John is able to survive the SWAT team's attempt on his life.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: The doctors finds out that the gun was never loaded. They ask if John was bluffing this whole time. He admits that he was, before loading it to shoot himself in the head. Fortunately, his wife reaches him in time and reveals there's a donor that matches Michael's blood type.
  • Domestic Abuse: One of the kidnapped patients is arrogant and a mean drunk...
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title John Q. refers both to the main character's name and the term "John Q. Public", which is a symbol for the common man.
  • Good Doc, Bad Doc: The kidnapped doctors and nurses get into it during a debate over HMO coverage.
  • Groin Attack: The abused girlfriend gives this to her Jerkass boyfriend as the coup de grace of a major beat-down after she foils his attempt to subdue John Q.
    Girlfriend: And this is for calling me a BITCH! (delivers heavy kick to nuts)
  • Heroic Suicide: John planned to shoot himself so his son could get his heart, but another was found at the last minute by his wife.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Subverted with the air-vent sniper. He hesitated long enough for John to speak with his son and hang up but still took a (non-lethal) shot afterwards.
  • Hollywood Law: There is no way that John would only spend 2 years in prison for all his crimes in any reasonable court of law, whether or not his intentions were good. He's found not guilty of attempted murder and armed criminal action simply because there were no bullets in the gun, which would not hold up, because an empty gun is still considered a deadly weapon. The jury can ignore the evidence and acquit him, which is likely what happened here since he had lots of public sympathy, but that still doesn't explain getting only two years on multiple kidnapping charges. In many places kidnapping is punishable by up to a life sentence.
    • In fairness, we do not see John's final sentence. His lawyer points out that he's realistically looking at 3 to 5 years imprisonment, and that she'll try to get it reduced to 2. 3 to 5 is about the average sentence a kidnapping convict will incur in the state of Illinois (the film is set in Chicago.)
  • Hope Spot: John starts to raise the money for his son's operation, selling the car and cutting back on expenses. Just as he's about to reach the total, his wife informs him that the hospital isn't waiting any longer and they're releasing Michael. This makes John desperate, and he goes to beg for his son's life from the administrators in charge of the case. It's only when they coldly refuse that he brings out the gun.
  • Hostage Situation: A rare case where the audience is actually rooting for the kidnapper. Hell, even the hostages were rooting for him (most of them, anyway).
  • Justified Criminal: John only creates the Hostage Situation out of despiration for his son's life.
  • Karma Houdini: The police guys who tried killing John unnecessarily because it was Election Year. Almost happened with Payne, but the guilt stab to her heart may or may have not been sufficient.
  • Leno Device: The denouement includes a montage of various late-night hosts, news anchors, and other assorted talking heads discussing the morality and ramifications of John's actions, as well as the American healthcare system.
  • Mistaken Identity: Towards the end of the film, one of the hostages pretends to be John by dressing in his coat and hat, in order to give John a chance to watch his son's operation
  • Moral Dilemma: John seems to be going through a series of these during the entire Hostage Situation.
  • Papa Wolf: John, most definitely.
  • Playing Possum: After the sniper narrowly misses John, he briefly fakes slowly falling down to the floor. It quickly turned out to be somewhat unneeded, as the sniper soon enough looses his footing and is left dangling from the air vent. John immediately drops the charade and moves to beat him into unconsciousness.
  • Police Are Useless: Well, at least the Chief of Police and those who listen to him.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The reason for John's near-Senseless Sacrifice. His wife was either so happy or so terrified that she didn't just say they found another heart, prompting John to think she was simply going crazy over his decision and shut off the walkie-talkie they were speaking to each other with, prompting her to run into the hospital screaming for him. Fortunately, she makes it in time.
  • Pregnant Hostage: When John takes the ER hostage, one of the hostages is a woman named Miriam who is pregnant with her first child.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: The film has this in spades. The protagonist's son needs a heart transplant but can't afford it. The big bad insurance agent is evil for not paying for his son's surgery, and the hospital proceeds to announce they're discharging Michael even though John has raised most of the money and needs a few more months. So John holds an entire hospital emergency room hostage, threatens to kill people if his son doesn't get a heart, and causes terror. However, there are only so many hearts available for transplant in the world. By blackmailing others to get his son a heart, he stole it from someone else, effectively killing that person. Then his son had his heart transplanted last minute by a group unprepared for the surgery, which lowered the odds of the transplant working. So John gave his son a lower chance of success of surviving the surgery than the person he stole the heart from. Not to mention the whole holding people hostage, disrupting an emergency room, which nearly resulted in one person dying, due to lack of proper treatment. Not only did John's stunt waste thousands of dollars, his 'victory' will encourage more people to blackmail the government for organs, which will further destabilize things, and most likely lead to more senseless deaths when the next blackmail attempt doesn't go as well as John's. Meanwhile, the insurance agent and doctor that are presented as the bad guys point out that they can't go around helping every little kid when there aren't enough hearts to go around. When you have to triage lives anyways, to triage lives based off financial affordability makes sense when the only other option is going bankrupt from never being paid for your services, and no one getting help.
    • The issue of stealing a heart from someone else is addressed in the film: the doctors learn and outright state that the heart John's son ends up receiving is of an organ type that he is the only person in the state to match. Also there's the fact that John's original plan was to kill himself so the doctors could use his heart, therefore providing a new heart instead of stealing one already on the list.
  • Reality Ensues: John is a good man pushed to the breaking point while trying to obtain a lifesaving treatment for his son. While he certainly got public opinion on his side, his actions clearly broke the law, resulting in him being found guilty and sent to prison, although his lawyer says she'll try to get him the minimum sentence.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lieutenant Grimes proves to be this. When John releases the hostages, he realizes the man walking outside in his clothes isn't him. He goes inside, seeing John and his wife watch the doctors operate on Michael. While he says he has to arrest John, he waits until the operation is a success and John surrenders without a fight.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Averted by a hairsbreadth . John was within a second or two of killing himself so his heart could be given to his son, until his wife informs him that they found another one to use (see Chekhov's Gunman above).
  • Share the Male Pain: Upon the delivery of the Groin Attack mentioned above, Dr. Turner and hostage Lester both visibly wince.
    Lester: I felt that!
  • Shout-Out: To bodybuilding. John's son is a big fan and references several past time legends in the sport. There are even pictures hung all over his room.
  • Spiritual Successor: A Race Lift remake of Dog Day Afternoon, right down to the the awesome "Attica!! Attica!!" scene where John turns an angry public against the police.
    "This hospital is under new management! FREE HEALTH-CARE FOR EVERYBODY!!"
  • Take That!: The only hostage that is heavily critical of John is an obnoxious abusive Jerkass. Real subtle.
  • Writer on Board: It's not hard to tell what side of the health-care debate these writers came out on the side of.


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