The Negotiator (1998)

In the interest of full disclosure, the first time I reviewed this movie, I gave it a full 5 stars.  I’m posting that review here now, and I still love the movie, but I don’t think it’s a 5 star movie anymore.  There are some beats in the film that just detract from the overall package, but I still think it’s a fine thriller, one where the director, F. Gary Gray, plays with the audiences sympathies and makes you question exactly who is good and bad.

F. Gary Gray took time out from making music videos and movies specifically targetting the black audience to direct this action / suspense / thriller. Sadly after directing this movie, he went on to underwhelm me with the Marky Mark Italian Job and the disappointing Be Cool, as well as some crappy Vin Diesel movie that I never had any desire to see. Now I’m not saying Gray is a middling director or anything like that, just that The Negotiator will probably end up being the best movie he ever made (Note: the only new feature he’s released since Be Cool was the alright Law Abiding Citizen).

Gray is certainly responsible for crafting a masterfully suspenseful police movie, but I probably never would have come across this movie if it weren’t for the two stars of it. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Danny Roman, a hostage negotiator for the Chicago police force, ironicly forced to take hostages in an attempt to prove his innocence after being accused of corruption and murder. Kevin Spacey is Chris Sabian, a negotiator from a different district that Roman requests be brought in to help prove his innocence. Problem is, Sabian’s so damned good at his job that he doesn’t care about the accusations leveled at Roman, he just wants to get the hostages out, alive and well.

The supporting cast is absolutely fantastic, featuring late greats J.T. Walsh and John Spencer, as well as familiar character actor faces like Ron Rifkin, the underrated David Morse, and good ol’ Paul Giamatti, back when he seemingly couldn’t get roles that didn’t require him to be fucking annoying. Some of them are good cops, some are hostages, all do an excellent job with their performances, hitting all the right notes. These are veteran actors and they know exactly what they’re doing, and Gray looks even better as a director thanks to them.

It says a lot for the writing team of James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox, when you’re actually wondering how everything’s going to turn out in the end. The entire premise of the movie has to be given away in the trailers, there’s no big surprises there, and that’s the nature of the beast. Throughout the rest of the movie there are plot twists and revelations that consistently keep you on the edge of your seat, leaving you wondering if there’s going to be a happy ending for Danny Roman after all.

There’s a lot to love about The Negotiator, but the chemistry between Spacey and Jackson is easily number one on my list. Their line deliveries, how they seem to be savouring every syllable, and still making their characters seem real and believable, is truly awe-inspiring and surprising in a movie that many might dismiss beforehand as a cookie cutter police procedural. Truly an excellent movie, and it makes me miss watching Kevin Spacey movies, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy him as Lex Luthor in the new Superman flick (Note: he was believable enough, but the movie absolutely sucked).

4.5 / 5

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About SkoochXC
Long-time blogger, Canadian, cine-snark-aphile, Tweeter and generally lonely hearted guy.

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