Feb 26, 2015

Review: The Negotiator (1998)

Based on the 80's-90's pension fund scandal in the St. Louis Police Department, well loosely anyway, The Negotiator pairs heavyweights Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. From an acting and screen presence point of view, you can't ask for much better now can you? Sylvester Stallone was originally cast to be in Spacey's role and Spacey was going to be in Jackson's role. The deck got reshuffled once Sly dropped out and probably for the best.

There have been some good police-themed crime/action thrillers that I've enjoyed over the past few years such as 16 Blocks, End of Watch and Infernal Affairs. I'm not saying that 16 Blocks is a masterpiece or anything and to be fair it probably shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence as Infernal Affairs. All I'm trying to say is that I like cop movies and I had high hopes for The Negotiator.


Genre: action, crime, drama
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Produced by: David Hoberman, Arnon Milchan, David Nicksay, etc.
Written by: James DeMonaco, Kevin Fox
Music by: Graeme Revell
Running time: 140 minutes
Production company:  Regency Enterprises, Mandeville Films, Monarchy Enterprises B.V., etc.
Distributed by: Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox of Germany, United Motion Pictures, etc.
Country: United States, Germany
Language: English
Budget: $50,000,000
Box office: $44,547,681 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, David Morse, Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, J.T. Walsh, Siobhan Fallon, Paul Giamatti, Regina Taylor, Bruce Beatty, Michael Cudlitz, Carlos Gómez



Recently married Lieutenant Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) is considered to be one of the finest hostage negotiators in Chicago. His partner Nate Roenick (Paul Guilfoyle) reveals to him that someone has been stealing money from the department disability pension and so they plan to meet again to figure out what to do next. On the night of their planned meeting, Danny finds Nate murdered in his car and no one else around. When the cops show up only moments later, he becomes the number one suspect.


The ensuing standoff between Danny Roman and the Chicago Police Department that becomes the basis of The Negotiator is definitely quite interesting. Danny finds himself in the opposite position he usually finds himself in after taking a couple hostages, giving him a slight upper hand from a strategic point of view. Still, he's vastly outnumbered as you can imagine and the dirty cops that want to hide their footprints will surely do what they can do take him out if they get the chance.

Kevin Spacey's character Chris Sabian comes into the picture at the 1/3 mark and he's known to Danny as being a patient hostage negotiator who only uses force as a last resort. He's an outsider though and has to fight to get the control he needs to help Danny out. With Spacey and Jackson on opposite sides, you can bet that sparks will fly and fly they do.

So why couldn't The Negotiator get my heart rate up? I guess it's mostly because F. Gary Gray's tries so hard to do exactly that, giving the film this extremely overblown nature that did nothing but frustrate. While I wasn't necessarily asking for realism or anything, I didn't need someone yelling into a loudspeaker telling me to get excited. Graeme Revell's hyperactive score doesn't help matters either.

Take for example a scene where Danny is screaming out of a skyscraper to "take his blood" as a helicopter circles around with all the media of Chicago watching. It's just one of those massively up played scenes that would look perfect in a trailer, but not so much in a movie. (Spoilers) The same thing goes for a scene where Danny supposedly shoots a cop he has as a hostage. It's so obvious that he didn't shoot him even though Gray tries to make it as unclear as he can. The later surprise of the cop still being alive is completely ruined as a result. (End Spoilers)

The dramatic and emotional scenes in The Negotiator suffer from the same overblown nature as the rest of film does. The funeral scene for Danny's partner Nate tries so hard to be powerful but fails hard as a result. A later confrontation between Danny, his wife Karen (Regine Taylor) and Nate's wife Linda (Rhonda Dotson) is also pretty hard to take seriously. Is there anyone who actually takes face slapping scenes for real anyway?

Despite F. Gary Gray's failed attempts at making The Negotiator the heart pumping thriller he wants it to be, I don't lay any blame on Samuel L. Jackson or Kevin Spacey. In fact, both of them are quite good in their respective roles and they're very entertaining to watch as their characters try to feel each other out. You got to love Chris Sabian's transformation from a regular family man into a no-nonsense hostage negotiator as he flicks his "on" switch to the on position. 

Samuel L. Jackson is also perfectly suited to play the Danny Roman role where he has to appear at least somewhat unhinged, ready to fly off the handle. There's a surprise little appearance from Paul Giamatti who plays a two-bit criminal named Rudy. He's pretty much there for comedic relief actually and does a fair job at it. He's responsible for most of the laughs I got out of The Negotiator which wasn't much. That's fine though because I wasn't expecting it to be a comedy.

The Negotiator is probably one of the most perfect examples of actors outshining the movie they're in. In what is a clumsy and overdone effort on F. Gary Gray's part (what  a weird name to type), Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey are one of the few redeeming features of the film. They're consistently entertaining and if it wasn't for them, TN would probably have fallen into bad movie territory.



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