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John Q. is a 2002 American drama film starring Denzel Washington and directed by Nick Cassavetes. The film tells the story of John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington), a father and husband whose son is diagnosed with an enlarged heart and finds out he is unable to receive a transplant because HMO insurance will not cover it, before he decides to hold up the hospital and force them to do it.

John Q.
John Q film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNick Cassavetes
Produced byMark Burg
Oren Koules
Written byJames Kearns
StarringDenzel Washington
Robert Duvall
James Woods
Anne Heche
Kimberly Elise
Ray Liotta
Music byAaron Zigman
CinematographyRogier Stoffers
Edited byDede Allen
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • February 15, 2002 (2002-02-15)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$36 million
Box office$102.6 million

The film co-stars Kimberly Elise, Robert Duvall, Anne Heche, James Woods and Ray Liotta. The film was shot in Toronto,[1] Hamilton, Ontario, and Canmore, Alberta, although the story takes place in Chicago. Shooting took place for 60 days from August 8 to November 3, 2001.



A motorist is driving dangerously down a winding road, recklessly passing cars until she comes upon a slow moving Mack truck. As she attempts to pass, her car is clipped by a truck going in the opposite direction, then slammed full-force by the Mack, killing her.

Meanwhile, Chicago factory worker John Quincy Archibald and his wife Denise witness their young son Michael collapse at his baseball game and rush him to the hospital. After a series of tests at the hospital, John is informed by cardiologist Dr. Raymond Turner and Rebecca Payne, the hospital administrator, that his son has an enlarged heart and that he will die without a heart transplant. The procedure is very expensive: $250,000 (at a minimum), with a down payment of $75,000 (30%) required to get Michael's name on the organ recipient list; it's revealed that because of his rare blood type, Michael would be put straight at the top of the list. John tells them he is insured, but after looking through his policy, they tell him that because the company he works for dropped John from full-time to part-time, his health insurance has been changed, and the new policy does not cover the surgery, which leaves John and Denise to raise the $75,000 themselves. The family attempts to raise the money by various methods including taking handouts, helping out their neighbors, and selling off their possessions, but only manage to come up with a third of the necessary payment. The hospital eventually tires of waiting and plans to release Michael, and an outraged, distraught Denise urges John to do something.

Unwilling to let his son die, John walks into the hospital ER with a handgun, gathers eleven hostages consisting of both patients and staff, including Dr. Turner, security guard Max Conlin, nurses Debby Utley and Steve Maguire, and ER physician Dr. Ellen Klein (the latter two of whom had treated Michael when he'd first arrived at the hospital), chains the doors to the ER and shuts down the elevators. However, an ambulance dropping off a gunshot victim arrives, and John agrees to let the victim in to receive treatment, but the paramedics then notify the police, who quickly arrive on-scene and set up a perimeter. John then sets his demands with hostage negotiator Lt. Frank Grimes: get his son's name on the recipient list as soon as possible or the hostages die. Grimes stands down to let John cool off.

Meanwhile, John ensures the hospital staff hostages give each of the patient hostages the treatment they came to the emergency room for: Steve and Miriam Smith, a married couple who are about to have their first child; Rosa Gonzales, a Mexican mother bringing her baby in for treatment for an ear infection; Lester Matthews, a man with a hand injury; and Mitch Quigley and Julie Byrd, a young couple who claim to have been injured in a car accident, but are soon revealed to be an abusive boyfriend and subservient girlfriend due to inconsistencies in their story and injuries. As the hostages give and receive their treatment, most of them start to support John as they begin to understand his situation and reflect on the flaws of America's health care system.

After a while, John agrees to release some hostages (including Miriam, who needs to go the maternity ward) in exchange for having his son's name added to the list within an hour afterward. Upon hearing this, Mitch deliberately provokes Steve into a fight, and when John steps in, Mitch attacks him with ethyl chloride and a scalpel that he'd pocketed, and in the scuffle, John loses control of his gun. Mitch, seeing the opportunity, tells Julie to retrieve the gun and shoot John, but she, sympathizing with John and fed up with Mitch's abusive and self-centered behavior, instead subdues Mitch with the ethyl chloride, allowing John to retrieve his weapon. When Mitch berates and insults Julie for turning on him, she retaliates by assaulting and then dumping him on the spot, much to the amusement of the other hostages. John then cuffs Mitch to a nearby radiator to prevent him from causing further trouble, and then lets Steve, Miriam, Rosa and her baby go free.

Meanwhile, Grimes and Payne meet with Denise and explain the situation to her, and Grimes tries to persuade her to talk John down. When that fails, Payne, having grown to sympathize with the Archibald family's plight, opts to put Michael's name on the recipient list, assuring Denise that the hospital will pay for everything. Elated, Denise then agrees to talk to John. However, at the same time, the Chicago Chief of Police, Gus Monroe, gives a SWAT unit permission to insert a sniper into the building via an air shaft, opting to use Denise to set John up to be killed. When Grimes confronts Monroe about this, Monroe tells him that the department and the city can't afford to give in to John's demands due to political reasons and overrides Grimes' command.

The police then lure John into position by diverting Denise's call to a certain ER phone. John answers and receives the news from Denise about Michael's name being on the recipient list and his still-deteriorating condition, and speaks to Michael, while the SWAT sniper gets into position to take John out. However, unknown to anyone, news anchor Tuck Lampley of Channel 8 News, one of the many journalists covering the hostage situation, has his team hack the police surveillance feed, and broadcasts both John's conversations with his family and the security feed on live national news.

Just as John ends his phone call, he discovers the hacked news coverage (via Lester alerting him) and notices the sniper, who takes his shot, causing a panicked uproar both inside and outside the ER. John is hit, but ends up only receiving a minor wound to the shoulder, though he fakes being killed in order to throw the police off-guard. Shortly after taking the shot, the sniper's leg falls through the ceiling tiles. Outraged, John gets up, pulls him out of the air shaft and beats him up. As John's wound is treated by the doctors, and Monroe fumes over the failed assassination attempt, the police discover the Channel 8 team's actions and force them to shut down their news feed. As this happens, Payne finishes submitting Michael's name to the organ recipient list.

John, using the bound SWAT policeman as a human shield, then steps outside to the sight of dozens of officers pointing weapons at him and a large, supportive crowd. John berates the police for attempting to kill him, and demands that his son be brought to the emergency room. The police agree to his request in exchange for the SWAT sniper.

Once his son arrives, John reveals to the hostages his intention to commit suicide so his heart can be used to save his son. He persuades Dr. Turner to perform the operation, and two of his hostages bear witness to a will stating his last request. John says his last goodbyes to Michael and enters the operating room. He loads a bullet into the gun; his gun was never loaded and he never intended to kill any of the hostages. John pulls the trigger, but the gun doesn't fire due to the safety being on. As he takes the safety off and prepares to end his life a second time, Denise learns from Payne about an organ donor (the woman killed in the beginning of the film) who had been flown to a nearby hospital for organ recovery, and that her heart is about to arrive for Michael's transplant. Denise runs to the emergency room, stopping John from shooting himself and telling him the news, and John releases the hostages. Michael is given the life-saving operation and, after watching the procedure with Denise, John is taken into police custody by Grimes. In the aftermath, the entire ordeal becomes subject to a national debate about the quality and accessibility of insurance and healthcare.

At John's trial, all of the former hostages testify on his behalf. Three months later, the jury acquits him of attempted murder and armed criminal action charges, but convicts him on charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment of the hostages, much to the dismay of everyone, including a now-healthy Michael. John's sentence for the crime is never revealed, but his lawyer is overheard saying that the judge wouldn't sentence him to more than three-to-five years and that she will try to get it reduced to two.

The film ends with John being driven off to jail to await sentencing, while Michael thanks his father from a distance for all he did to save his life.



In Blu-ray DVD commentary on the Deleted Scenes with Cassavetes and writer James Kearns, the main theme of the movie was said to be "about a miracle and John's faith in God creating the miracle". They also mentioned how SWAT team advisors for the film related a similar true incident in Toronto where a man (Henry Masuka) took an ER hostage after it would not provide immediate service to his infant son on New Year's Eve 1999. When he exited the ER he was shot and killed and found to be carrying an unloaded pellet gun.[2][3][4] A character building scene at the beginning of the film was shot in Cambridge, ON at a manufacturing facility owned by Babcock & Wilcox. Washington is shown using a grinder as he stands over a tubesheet destined for a steam generator for a nuclear power generating facility.[5]


Box officeEdit

The film opened in first place at the box office, taking $23,275,194 during its first weekend. It ended up with a total domestic gross of $71,026,631 and $102,244,770 worldwide.

Critical receptionEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 23% based on the 131 reviews, with the site's consensus reading, "Washington's performance rises above the material, but John Q pounds the audience over the head with its message."[6] Metacritic gives it a score of 30 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Reel Toronto: John Q". online news. Torontoist.
  2. ^ Audio commentary on the DVD.
  3. ^ Rush, Curtis (10 December 2011). "In tailspin after police shootings, former SWAT team leader lifts veil on post-traumatic stress syndrome". Toronto Star. Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  4. ^ "Inquest into fatal hospital shooting begins" CBC News, April 17, 2001.
  5. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2014-06-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "John Q".
  7. ^ "John Q".
  8. ^ Hooli, Shekhar H. (15 March 2010). "Sugreeva – Review". oneIndia. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  9. ^ "Tathastu? Or is it John Q?". South Asian Women's Forum. 10 May 2006. Archived from the original on 2 February 2016. Retrieved 29 February 2012.

External linksEdit