| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
A woman is driving dangerously down a winding road, recklessly passing cars until she comes upon a slow moving Mack truck. As she goes to pass, her car is clipped by a truck going in the opposite direction, then slammed full-force by the Mack, killing her.
Meanwhile, John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington) and his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) witness their young son Michael (Daniel E. Smith) collapse at his baseball game and take Michael to the hospital.
After a series of tests at the hospital, John is informed by Dr. Raymond Turner (James Woods) and Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche), the hospital administrator that Michael has an enlarged heart and will need a heart transplant to live. 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 donor list.
John tells them that 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 $75,000 on their own. The family tries to raise the money but are only able to come up with a third of the necessary payment.
The hospital tires of waiting and releases Michael; Denise urges John to do something. Unwilling to let his child die, John walks into the hospital ER with a handgun, gathers eleven hostages and sets demands: his son's name on the recipient list as soon as possible. The hostage negotiator, Lt. Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) stands down to let John cool off.
Meanwhile, John and the eleven hostages learn more about each other. They begin to understand John's situation and support him a little as he ensures each of them receive the treatment they came to the emergency room for. One of them, Miriam (Troy Beyer) is pregnant, and her husband Steve (Troy Winbush) is hoping that their first child is healthy.
A young hostage, Julie (Heather Wahlquist) has a broken arm, and she and her boyfriend Mitch (Shawn Hatosy) claim that a car crash caused it. Due to holes in their story, John and another hostage, Lester (Eddie Griffin) conclude the two are lying and that Mitch beat up Julie.
After a while, John agrees to release some hostages to have his son's name added to the list an hour afterward. He releases Steve, Miriam and a hostage named Rosa (Martha Chaves) with her baby.
The Chicago Chief of Police, Gus Monroe (Ray Liotta) gives a SWAT unit permission to insert a sniper into the building via an air shaft. John is shot, but he ends up receiving only a minor wound which is treated right away.
After taking the shot, the sniper's leg falls through the ceiling tiles. Outraged, John pulls him out of the air shaft and beats him up. Using the bound SWAT policeman as a human shield, he steps outside to the sight of dozens of policemen pointing weapons at him and a large, supportive crowd. John demands that his son be brought to the emergency room. The police agree to his demand 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 & 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 single bullet into the gun and pulls the trigger, but the safety is on. As he prepares to end his life a second time, his wife learns about an organ donor (which happens to be the female driver that was killed in the beginning of the movie) who has been flown to the hospital for organ recovery. She runs to the emergency room and stops John from shooting himself, and John allows the hostages to go free.
Michael is given the life-saving operation and after watching the procedure with Denise, John is taken into police custody. Afterwards, the entire ordeal becomes subject to a national debate about the quality and accessibility of insurance and healthcare.
Three months later at his trial, all of the witnesses speak on John's behalf. He is later acquitted of charges of attempted murder and armed criminal action but is found guilty of kidnapping. It is never revealed what his sentence for the crime will be, but his lawyer is overheard and saying that no judge will give him "more than three to five (years)" and that she will try to get it reduced to two.
- Denzel Washington as John Quincy Archibald
- Kimberly Elise as Denise Archibald
- Daniel E. Smith as Michael "Mike" Archibald
- James Woods as Dr. Raymond Turner
- Anne Heche as Rebecca Payne
- Robert Duvall as Lt. Frank Grimes
- Ray Liotta as Chief Gus Monroe
- Shawn Hatosy as Mitch Quigley
- Heather Wahlquist as Julie Byrd
- David Thornton as Jimmy Palumbo
- Laura Harring as Gina Palumbo
- Troy Beyer as Miriam Smith
- Kevin Connolly as Steve Maguire
- Troy Winbush as Steve Smith
- Vanessa Branch as Nurse
- Eddie Griffin as Lester Matthews
- Martha Chaves as Rosa Gonzales
- Larissa Laskin as Dr. Ellen Klein
- Ethan Suplee as Guard Max Conlin
- Obba Babatundé as Sergeant Moody
- Paul Johansson as Tuck Lampley
- Dina Waters as Debby Utley
- Keram Malicki-Sánchez as Freddy B.
- Stephanie Moore as Admitting Nurse
- Gabriela Oltean as Beautiful BMW Driver
"John Q." was filmed from August 7th to November 3, 2000. It was filmed in Canada in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec & in Chicago, Illinois.
The movie was shot in a group of provincial government buildings in Toronto. Adjacent to filming is a hospital. On at least one occasion, filming blocked off the access to the real emergency room of the real hospital.
"John Q" opened at #1 in the box office, grossing $20,275,194 during its opening weekend. It ended up with a total domestic gross of $71,026,631 and $102,244,770 worldwide.
The film closed in theaters on May 2, 2002.
The film received mixed reviews from critics.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film was given a 23% rating based on 131 reviews. It was given a 78% audience approval rating with an average rating of 3.5\5.
The critics consensus said, "Washington's performance rises above the material, but John Q pounds the audience over the head with its message".
However, on the same date, the Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score indicated that 78% liked the movie, with (168,855) users providing an average 3.5 out of 5 rating.
The Metacritic score for the film was 30/100 based on (33) critics (meaning "generally unfavorable reviews"), but (102) Metacritic users rated the movie an average 7.2 out 10 at this time (meaning "generally favorable reviews").
Entertainment Weekly said the film "doesn't explore injustice, it just exploits it".
Roger Ebert gave "John Q." two in a half stars, saying, "John Q is the kind of movie Mad magazine prays for. It is so earnest, so overwrought and so wildly implausible that it begs to be parodied. I agree with its message-- that the richest nation in history should be able to afford national health insurance--but the message is pounded in with such fevered melodrama, it's as slanted and manipulative as your average political commercial".
2002 BET Awards
- Best Actor: Denzel Washington (nominated) (along with Training Day)
2002 BMI Film & TV Awards
- BMI Film Music Award: Aaron Zigman (won)
2003 Black Reel Awards
- Theatrical-Best Actor: Denzel Washington (nominated)
- Theatrical-Best Actress: Kimberly Elise (nominated)
2003 Image Awards'
- Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture: Denzel Washington (won)
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Kimberly Elise (nominated)
- Outstanding Motion Picture (nominated)
2003 Political Film Society, USA
- PFS Award for Democracy Expose-Human Rights (nominated)