John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington) is an ordinary man who works at a factory and takes care of his family. His wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) and young son Michael (Daniel E. Smith) are his world. But when Michael falls seriously ill and needs an emergency heart transplant operation that John can't afford and his health insurance won't cover, he vows to do whatever it will take to keep his son alive. With time and options running out, a desperate gamble becomes his only hope - - he takes the emergency room hostage. As John barricades himself inside the hospital along with his unwitting group of emergency room hostages, many of them in need of medical care themselves, he faces off with a veteran police hostage negotiator (Robert Duvall) and a quick-tempered police chief (Ray Liotta) who wants to bring a swift end to the stand-off.