Washington's John Q. is, as his name not so subtly alludes, a stand-in for all of us who have been denied a drug, procedure, treatment or surgery that wasn't on the plan, our well-being taking a back seat to bureaucracy and profits.
The movie, which could accurately be called a protest film, plays out with a series of defiant Norma Rae moments as Washington's average Joe tries to negotiate a swap of the hospital patients he's holding at gunpoint for the heart operation.
Fresh off his role as a rogue cop in “Training Day,” Washington delivers another blisteringly intense performance, but this time it's a bit too teary-eyed. As a result, the mushy finale turns “John Q” into a movie-of-the-week tearjerker.
It benefits, however, from the brilliant performance by Kimberly Elise, who play's John's wife, Denise. Elise transforms herself from loving wife to enraged, protective mother before our eyes, contorting her face into something similar in spirit to a Rodin sculpture. Her pain is palatable.
Robert Duvall peddles through the motions as a hostage negotiator, even slipping in and out of an overly-pronounced Chicago accent. Anne Heche and James Woods both effectively play hospital villains, but James Kearns has written their roles with the psychological depth of a comic book.
Nick Cassavetes imbues the movie with some much-needed grit. It doesn't have the raw confusion of his father's movies, but there's no gloss either.
Director Ted Demme, who died earlier this year of a heart attack, makes an eerie cameo appearance to talk about coronary failure. Starring Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, Kimberly Elise, James Woods, Anne Heche and Eddie Griffin. Directed by Nick Cassavetes. Written by James Kearns. Produced by Mark Burg and Oren Koules. A New Line release. Thriller/Drama. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and intense thematic elements. Running time: 116 min