Tuesday, June 30, 2020

How to Save a Life

John Q
Director: Nick Cassavettes
Cast: Denzel Washington, Robert DuVall, James Woods, Kimberly Elise, Anne Heche, Ray Liotta
Released: February 15, 2002

I assume this movie was overlooked by many because it came out during the middle of the Oscars campaign when Denzel was nominated (and won) for Training Day which came out in late 2001. While there are super cheesy moments that make me feel like I was watching a made for TV movie at times (the music, the slow motion), I thought this was pretty entertaining (but when has Denzel ever let us down?) and it has to be the most exciting movie I've ever seen about health insurance!

John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington) is a man who is trying to make ends meet, but it is hard for him and his wife, Denise (Kimberly Elise). He works at a factory where he's supposed to be full time but because they don't need him that much, his hours have been reduced to only twenty a week, and she works at a supermarket and has to wear the ugliest brown and yellow uniform. We are introduced to them on the morning their car is being repossessed, but despite that, they seem to be in good spirits. But the day is still young. While at their nine-year-old (??) son's baseball game, the young boy collapses while running from one base to the other. Michael's parents rush him to Hope Memorial Hospital in Chicago and are told by doctors that his heart is three times larger than what it should be (sounds like the opposite of the Grinch's heart!) and not enough blood is being pumped into it, thus making it work too hard. They have put him on a monitor for now where his blood pressure is at 88, when it should be above 90. If it goes below 70, that means heart failure. It's probably not a big surprise to hear that before this movie is over, it will go down to 68.

The hospital administrator supervisor, Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche), and Dr. Turner (James Woods), inform the Archibalds that their son's heart is useless and needs a transplant, otherwise he may only have weeks to live. The decision seems to be easy for the parents (by the way, stellar acting from Denzel here...tears are running down his face, while he's trying to remain composed as he's having the conversation): of course they want their son's name to be put on the donor list and get the transplant as soon as possible. Rebecca tells them that his insurance doesn't cover the procedure and if they do want the procedure, they have to treat it as a "cash account" which means it will cost $250,000 and will require a down payment of $75,000 before they can put Michael's name on the transplant list. This is horrifying news for parents of a dying child who only have a little over a thousand dollars in savings. As Payne coldly states, "It costs money to provide health care."

The next part of the movie focuses on the parents doing anything they can do to change the fate of their son. John talks to his boss about his insurance and is informed they recently changed carriers from a PPO to HMO (my eyes usually glaze over when any type of insurance is being discussed, so I really don't know the differences). As a non-management part time employee such as he is, John only qualifies for "second tier" catastrophic coverage, which only has a max payout of only $20,000. (Can you tell I was taking notes? No way I can remember all this! Though I actually take notes for all of my movie reviews). John argues that he was hired as full time, but is only getting part time hours because work is slow and his boss replies that the coverage is based on hours worked. He regretfully tells him there's nothing he can do, but John can file an appeal which will take seven working days to process. 

The parents talk to someone at State Services who tells them she can't help them because they already have medical insurance and that they should be on welfare, which surprises Denise because they both already have jobs. They next go somewhere for financial aid and they end up in the wrong line (which was already long to begin with) and had to enter another long line. I really felt for them in that moment. They're in a cramped, crowded room. They have other things they could be doing to progress things and standing in a line for hours probably makes them feel like they are not getting anything done. Worst of all, when they do finally talk to someone to see if they can get financial aid, the answer they get is, "No, you don't qualify." A defeated and angry John replies "My son is dying. I'm broke. If I don't qualify who the hell does?" 

The next week he gets back a reply to the appeal he filed and things are starting to look a little better until after he shows it to Payne and she tells him that he filed the wrong paperwork. The one he filed was an appeal for an already existing claim when he should have filed a grievance that will take a month to get. Oh, man, if I were him, I would have been so tempted to reach across the desk and slap her! Maybe tell these poor people what they need to do! 

We next see a montage of them raising money, and their church and neighbors, despite not having much money either, pitch in and raise money for them. (If ever there was a time for a Go Fund Me, this would be it, but unfortunately they were living in the archaic times of two thousand and two!) One of Denise's friends, who is a waitress, gives her tips to her. John goes to a pawn shop where he sells his wife's engagement ring and they have a garage sale where they sell their TV and car among other things. In the end, they come up with $22,000, which is pretty impressive, but still a long way off from the $75,000 they need.

Unfortunately, the hospital can't wait any more and decide they're going to release Michael. I wasn't quite sure how much time had elapsed since Michael was first admitted to the hospital, maybe a month? John isn't there when this decision is made, so his wife calls him from a pay phone (yes, they were still using pay phones in 2002!) to tell him what's going on and hisses at him to "Do something." Now I'm sure when she told him this, she didn't mean for her husband to take an emergency room hostage (spoiler alert!), but rather try to talk some sense in the doctors and see if they can show a little compassion. To be fair, he does try to talk to the doctor first before he takes a drastic turn. He tells Dr. Turner that he did some research and found out the hospital does 300 surgeries every year which are $250,000 each and that comes out to $75 million and he doesn't understand why they can't perform the surgery on his son in good faith and promises him he will pay the rest of the money back. When the doctor apologizes and tells him he can't do this, John pulls a gun out of his jacket and tells him, "I'm not asking anymore; I'm telling you, you are going to give my son a new heart, do you understand me?" You can tell he really hasn't thought this plan through (or has never done anything like this before!) because he is nervous and doesn't exactly know what to do. The doctor tells him, "If you do this you are on an irreversible course of action."

John ends up bringing him to an emergency room where he locks the doors, breaks the security camera and tells the security guard (played by Ethan Suplee) to shut down the elevators. We get the first great Denzel line of the movie: "Hospital's under new management now: from now on, free health care for everybody."

Along with the doctor and security guard, there's also another young doctor (played by Kevin Connelly), a guy with a bleeding hand, an abusive boyfriend and his girlfriend, a Spanish-speaking mother with her baby, and a pregnant woman and her husband. He also lets a gunshot victim in and lets the young doctor work on him.

Word quickly gets out what is happening at the hospital and a team is quickly assembled outside. Robert DuVall plays Frank Grimes, the hostage negotiator who gets in touch with John. When he asks him if anybody is hurt, John replies, "It's an emergency room; everyone's hurt." When Grimes asks him his name, this is when we get the movie's title as he tells him to call him "John Q". (Can't give away his full name, though, let's be honest, they're going to find out!) John tells Grimes to find Rebecca Payne and to tell her to put his son's name on the donor list. He adds that if his son's name isn't on that list by 4:15, somebody will die. I think that gives them an hour.

John agrees to let a few hostages go and releases the mother and her baby and the pregnant wife and her husband (honestly, I'm surprised he let the husband go, but as we will soon find out, John Q is a stand up guy). When they are released, they tell news crews (by this time there's a whole crowd outside the hospital) that John Q is a "very good man" and they praise him for letting in the man with the gunshot or else he would have died. 

Ray Liotta plays Gus Monroe, the Chief of Police, and he wants to take more drastic measures, despite the fact that John seems to be cooperating with them and Grimes doesn't agree with his tactics. He wants to put a sniper in through the air ducts so he can take a shot at John. Payne is also brought onto the scene and tells Grimes and Monroe, "If you give in to this guy, there's gonna be guns in every hospital." She decides that she's going to lie and tell John's wife that she has decided to put Michael's name on the list and the hospital will pay for everything. Then Denise will tell her husband and he'll let the hostages go.

Of course Denise (who is with her son) is thrilled to hear this (and I think this may be the first time she hears about what her husband is doing?), she calls him to tell him Michael's name is on the list. Somehow, the local news is able to get live video feed of John talking to his wife, then to his son. (And the swarmy news guy says, "This is my white Bronco.") Rebecca is so touched when she sees this that she changes her mind and gives permission for the young boy to actually have his name on the list. This kind of surprised me that she changed her mind as she was portrayed as a cold corporate bitch who wasn't budging one bit...until she was moved to tears. Meanwhile, while John is distracted talking on the phone, the sniper Monroe has sent through the vents takes his aim at an unarmed John, who see's he's on TV right before he gets shot in the arm. He pulls the sniper down and punches him several times. I'm not sure how long it's been since he first took the ER hostage, but I love that he started as a bumbling everyday guy who didn't know what he was doing and now he's this bad ass who's also quickly becoming a hero as we will soon see when he brings out the sniper who he has duct taped his hands behind his back.

Grimes tells him, "Nobody wants to kill you" and an angry John yells "What is this?" and throws the sniper's rifle towards the lieutenant. By this time an even bigger crowd has gathered and they are cheering for John. They cheer in the right spots and they boo in the right spots (like when John shows the gun after Grimes tells him they're not trying to kill him.) We get a little foreshadowing as Grimes tells hm, "There's only two ways out for you: jail or dead." Without spoiling too much (or maybe I'm spoiling a lot!), one of those two things will happen. We then get what is perhaps the most Denzeliest line from this film, which was in all the trailers: before he lets the sniper go, he declares, "I am NOT going to bury my son; my son is going to bury ME!" I mean, even if you've never seen this movie, I'm sure you can hear Denzel say it. That line reminds me when he says, "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock; Plymouth Rock landed on us!" in Malcolm X. Probably because it has a similar structure and it's another iconic Denzel line that's said in a very Denzel-ish way. (I mean, if anyone can say their lines in the most Denzel-ish way, it's Denzel Washington!)

John's demands are that he want his son brought to the ER and he will let the hostages go. This is agreed upon and they prepare to receive the young boy. When John said he wanted his son to bury him, he was thinking the next day, apparently, because his plan is to kill himself and have his heart be given to his son. Dude, that's very noble, but a TERRIBLE idea. As the two doctors tell him, there are too many risk factors like bloody type, chest cavity measurements, and both blood tissues must be compatible. John tells them that they're both B positive, their tissues match, and his heart should fit since his son's heart is three times the normal size. I still think this is a terrible idea and there's still the slight chance his heart won't be compatible for his son and then he will have died for nothing. This is when the hostages find out that John's gun only had one bullet in it and he was never planning on killing anyone except for himself (interesting he had that suicide plan all along, but I guess it makes sense because he had to make sure his son got a heart one way or the other).

So John is lying down (not sure why), ready to shoot himself, but he first decides he's thirsty and needs a drink of water. Really, what does it matter if he's thirsty if he's going to be dead in a few minutes? Obviously, they're trying to prolong the moment and make it as dramatic as possible because while this is going on, the doctor who was staying with Michael receives a fax that a brand new heart that fits the criteria for Michael perfectly has just been harvested from a young woman who died in a car accident. I should back up here and say this is how the movie opens: we see a young, well-to-do woman driving her fancy BMW in Montana, I think. She's driving super fast through the curvy, mountainous roads and at one point she passes a truck in an obvious no-passing zone and while she's passing him, surprise, surprise, another truck appears in the view. Now this moron had plenty of time to pass the truck and get back in her lane and hopefully learn her lesson that it's not a good idea to pass cars on roads like these. Oh, she will learn her lesson, all right, but just more in the deadly way. I think she is able to pass the truck, but barely and her car gets clipped and spins in the other lane and she is hit by the oncoming semi. I don't mean to be callous or anything, but the dumb bitch kinda deserved it. Also, where is she going that she's in a hurry to get to? And why is she so dressed up? She appears to be in the middle of Nowhere, USA. I was very confused when I was watching this scene; I had no idea how she was internal to the plot, but once she was hit, I figured it out. I don't think you need this scene; especially not as the opening to the movie!

When Denise is informed about the heart, she calls her husband on the walkie, telling him she needs to talk to him, but he doesn't want to respond because he doesn't want to change his mind. I'm yelling at the screen, "Tell him you found a heart!!!" I found it a little bit weird that nobody is trying to stop him while he's "preparing" to kill himself. While there are people who don't agree with what he's doing, nobody is actively trying to stop him. In a very, very tense moment, he pulls the trigger with the gun pointed to his head, but oops-a-daisy! The safety is on. I mean, whew, right?

We see his wife outside the building and she's screaming something (presumably they found a heart), then in the very next scene we see a bunch of doctors, including John who is dressed up in scrubs. It's a weird scene because we don't see his reaction when he learns that 1), a heart has been found for his son, and 2), he doesn't have to kill himself after all. I guess they wanted it to be a surprise for the audience to see if he had pulled the trigger before it was too late. I personally would have rather seen his reaction as I figured he wasn't going to die. It didn't seem like that kind of movie; this is a guy you're rooting for, after all, they're not going to kill off the hero in such a horrible way.

The surgery is performed and the organ fits Michael perfectly so he now has a healthy heart. The ending of the movie shows John in court. We see all his hostages who are there to support him and most most likely gave witness statements. He is found not guilty of attempted murder and armed criminal action, but is found guilty of kidnapping and false imprisonment. I'm not sure what the sentence is, but his lawyer tells him she will try to get it down to two years. I'm thinking since everyone is on his side, it will be even less than that. But I guess they gotta show that he needs to do the time as he did commit a crime cuz you just can't hold everyone at gunpoint in a hospital even if your intentions are noble.

I'm not sure how realistic this movie is (something tells me not very) and it definitely is very emotionally manipulative, but it's a fun throwback early 2000s Denzel movie to watch.

Speaking of 2000s Denzel movies, I will be reviewing a few more this week, so I hope you enjoy those! I guarantee you will like them!