The Negotiator Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

I'm only doing this to prove my innocence.
The Negotiator Poster

The situation: an armed man has taken hostages and is threatening to kill them if his demands are not met. It sounds like any one of a number of "The Negotiator", the armed man is one of the top two hostage negotiators of the Chicago Police Department-- the man being sent in to demand his surrender down is the other. This intriguing premise lays the foundation for a thrilling battle of wits, and a winning thriller.

He knows the rules of engagement.

Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson of "Sphere") is a hostage negotiator with a predisposition towards the perilous and unexpected. However, he gets results, able to defuse the tensest of situations, which has won him numerous accolades. However, when his partner informs him that he has evidence of a widespread conspiracy among his fellow officers that is siphoning millions of dollars from the police pension fund and winds up dead not long after, Roman soon finds himself framed for both the murder and the embezzlement scheme. Ostracized by his fellow officers and facing a lengthy jail term, Roman takes matters into his own hands. He goes to the Chicago Police Department's headquarters and confronts the alleged ringleader of the conspiracy, Internal Affairs investigator Niebaum (the late J.T. Walsh of "Sling Blade"). However, the situation quickly deteriorates and Roman soon finds himself holding a gun on Niebaum, one of his superiors, among others. Seeing no other way of clearing his name, Roman locks himself in Niebaum's office and demands that measures be taken to prove his innocence, and that another celebrated negotiator be brought to the scene, Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey of "L.A. Confidential").

I once talked a man out of blowing up the Sears Building, but I can't talk my wife out of a bathroom or my daughter off the phone.
Samuel L. Jackson

Sabian is a by-the-book negotiator who resorts to hostile action only as a last resort. He must not only match wits with Roman, an equal who knows the rules of the game, but he must also uncover the truth behind Roman's allegations. However, Sabian finds his loyalties tested when he sees his fellow officers sabotaging the negotiation efforts with their unauthorized actions and a fervent desire to initiate a 'full breach'-- ending the siege by going in with guns blazing. Who is merely doing their job, and who is part of the alleged conspiracy? Is it Commander Beck (David Morse of "Contact"), the trigger-happy SWAT team leader? Or is it Roman's superior officer, Chief Al Travis (John Spencer)? Or is everyone trying to bury the evidence of wrongdoing? Who can Sabian trust?

I'm standing in a room full of people that want to kill him. I wonder why that is?!
Kevin Spacey

As "The Hunt for Red October" screenwriter Larry Ferguson once said, "The way you get screenplays on the screen is you write parts actors want to play." "The Negotiator" is an excellent example of this aphorism-- scribes James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox have created not one, but two compelling and smart protagonists who are on opposite sides of a volatile situation. Though they are both bound by their strong conviction to uncover the truth, they find themselves tested by having to act against their colleagues in order to achieve this goal-- a difficult displacement of loyalties. The casting choices of Jackson and Spacey are perfect for this cerebral cat-and-mouse game, and each shines as their characters attempt to outsmart the other, while heightening the ante. Director F. Gary Gray (who previously helmed "Set It Off") uses some astute lensing to showcase the captivating performances of his leads and capture the frenzied pyrotechnic-laden action.

Though "The Negotiator" does lag a bit in the pacing department for the first act, the action picks up considerably once Roman commits himself to his act of desperation. This thriller has a little something for everyone-- humor, interesting and likable characters, thrilling action sequences, and several surprises along the way. A pleasant surprise in a world full of "Die Hard" clones.

Images courtesy of Warner Brothers. All rights reserved.

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