[Movie Review] The Negotiator

The NegotiatorStarring: Kevin Spacey, Samuel L Jackson, JT Walsh, David Morse, Paul Giamatti
Director: F Gary Gray
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 18
Released: 1998

If you went back just three years before the release of this movie, you may find that Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey were two of Hollywood’s lesser known names. Jackson was just about to break with “Pulp Fiction” but previously might only have been recognisable from bit parts in movies like “True Romance”, “Menace II Society”, “Jurassic Park” and “Goodfellas”. Spacey was also close to mainstream recognition with his upcoming appearance in “The Usual Suspects” for which he won an Academy Award. Prior to that his role of honour included excellent turns in low-profile but critically acclaimed movies “Glengary Glen Ross” and “Swimming with Sharks”.

So now we have two of the most watchable and well known actors in Tinseltown thrown together for the first time.

“The Negotiator” opens (predictably!) with a negotation scene. We see Lt Danny Roman (Jackson) demonstrating his ability to dominate a hostage scene and come out on top despite his dubious tactics. His renegade approach wins him praise from most, but notably Commander Beck (Morse – “The Green Mile”) is not impressed and is obviously waiting for Roman’s first screw up.

At a colleagues 60th birthday party, Roman’s partner, Nate, tells him that his informant says officers are skimming off the pension fund and that internal affairs are involved to some degree. But when Nate is found murdered by Danny the next night, he soon realises that not only is he being set up for the murder but also is being framed for stealing money from the fund. Not knowing who to trust and desperate to clear his name, Danny takes hostages in an FBI building, and then demands to talk to a fellow negotiator from another district – Chris Sabian (Spacey). Roman wants to clear his name. Sabian wants to save the lives of everyone involved in the situation. The police want Roman dead.

The most intriguing part of this movie is definitely the head-to-head between Roman and Sabian. To this degree, elements of “The Fugitive” are very apparent. For Jackson, read Harrison Ford – accused of a crime he didn’t commit and fighting to clear his name. For Spacey, read Tommy Lee Jones – the man brought in to capture the outlaw, with no interest in whether or not he is guilty of the crime he is accused of.

But while it all sounds explosive and breathtaking, it fails to live up to expectations. The story suffers from implausability from the start. Danny is a nice guy and clearly is being framed for the murder of his partner, but suddenly we are to believe that he is capable of putting it all on the line by becoming a hostage taker. The script tries to illustrate why he takes this step, but it struggles to make a convincing job of it.

Meanwhile we are stuck with a “whodunnit” angle as we aim to pick out the crooks in the police force. In the end, it was who I thought it was and I’d imagine a lot of others had probably guessed too. Add to that a terribly telegraphed moment as Danny aims to show what he is capable of doing to one of his hostages in order to further his demands – very see through stuff.

F Gary Gray works the directors chair reasonably well. Within the compact setting of the 20th floor of an FBI building, a reasonably amount of tension builds up and there are some decent action scenes as Roman shoots to survive.

But overall there is nothing that rises above mediocre, save for the strong performances from the two leads. An honourable mention must also go to JT Walsh, to whom this movie is dedicated – he died shortly after the filming. Walsh accumulated 50 movies in 8 years, only 8 of which were made for TV. His name is not as well known as his face, and there can’t be many casual moviegoers that don’t remember him from “Breakdown”, “Executive Decision”, “Nixon”, “The Client”, “Sniper”, “Backdraft”, “A Few Good Men” and numerous other hits from the last decade. A wonderful actor, who will be greatly missed by many.


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