Denzel Washington is the desperate father who, lacking the insurance required to cover his sickly child's heart transplant, turns his hospital nightmare into a hostage situation. The shortcomings of America's healthcare system are baldly exposed as negotiator Robert Duvall tries to stop a bad situation from getting worse. He is not helped by Anne Heche as the hospital administrator whose sympathies extend only to her account books, nor hard-nosed surgeon James Woods, whose bedside manner could do with considerable improvement.
Denzel Washington's stock was riding pretty high after he landed the Best Actor Oscar for the otherwise middling Training Day.
However, it's just as well his nomination wasn't riding on this solidly competent yet hardly groundbreaking piece of film-making.
He plays down-on-his-luck dad John Quincy Archibald, a blue collar worker who - like nearly 50 million Americans - has little or no health insurance.
The lack of basic cover becomes a major problem when John's 12-year-old son needs a heart transplant after collapsing while playing baseball.
He's put on the donor list at the local hospital...but, when the administrators discover he isn't covered by insurance, he's taken off the list.
John and his boy are dismissed in no uncertain terms by coldhearted surgeon James Woods and by-the-book hospital administrator Anne Heche.
But, rather than meekly return home, John turns a gun on the hospital that wants to kick him out and takes the Emergency Room staff hostage.
John's demands for the operation to take place are countered by hostage negotiator Robert Duvall and the whole drama is broadcast to the nation by hovering television crews.
Washington delivers a compassionate performance as the desperate dad (he even spent three months working in a factory to prepare his part).
But the movie only just escapes falling into a melodramatic hole - a flaw that can be forgiven as it also highlights a yawning chasm in America's creaky healthcare system.