Nick (son of John) Cassavetes’ film stars Denzel Washington as John Q Archibald, a blue collar worker who’s been “downsized”. When his son Mike (Daniel E Smith) collapses at a baseball game and is diagnosed as needing a heart transplant, John is convinced his insurance will cover it. It won’t: he needs $250,000 and can only raise $20,000.
As the hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche) refuses treatment and cardiologist Raymond Turner (James Woods) looks helplessly on, John takes the only course he sees open and takes them and the rest of the Emergency Room – staff and patients alike – hostage. As grizzled negotiator Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) and hot-shot police chief Gus Monroe (Ray Liotta) arrive, the question is whether John will succeed in getting his son a heart or whether he will end up the victim of a police marksman.
Cassavetes had a personal stake in the film – at the time his daughter was on a donated organ recipient list – and the film also strikes a political nerve, exposing the government-encouraged withdrawal of health benefits for low-paid workers, leaving them at the mercy of under-funded public medicine and at the back of the queue for organ donation.
The cast, sprinkled with Oscar winners and nominees, never try and outshine each other, and Washington’s central performance, ranging from righteous anger at the system to desperate worry at his son’s plight, carries the drama of the film beyond its issues.
Denzel Washington as John Quincy Archibald
Robert Duvall as Frank Grimes
Anne Heche as Rebecca Payne
Kimberly Elise as Denise Archibald
Daniel E. Smith as Mike Archibald
Larissa Laskin as Dr. Ellen Klein
James Woods as Dr. Raymond Turner
Ethan Suplee as Guard Max Conlin
Shawn Hatosy as Mitch Quigley
Heather Wahlquist as Julie Bird
Ray Liotta as Chief Gus Monroe
Eddie Griffin as Lester Matthews
Dina Spybey-Waters as Debby Utley
Shera Danese as Wife of Heart Transplant Patient
Frank Cassavetes as Sniper
Kevin Connolly as Steve Maguire
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Script: James Kearns
US | 116 minutes | 2002