The Negotiator (1998)

The Negotiator (1998)
  • Time: 140 min
  • Genre: Action | Crime | Drama
  • Director: F. Gary Gray
  • Cast: Kevin Spacey, Samuel L. Jackson, David Morse


Samuel L. Jackson is Danny Roman, a hot shot police negotiator and the man of the hour in the police department. One day he wakes up to find that he has been set up, and now the police are after him. In his panic, he takes control of a building. Knowing all the rules of negotiation, Danny asks for the only negotiator he can trust – Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). When the police get itchy trigger fingers and want to go into the building shooting, Sabian finds that the only way he can save Danny Roman’s life is to go in there and become his partner. Now the police have to deal with both of them.


  • Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey are both excellent as two police negotiators in this tense, well acted, action thriller.

    The plot takes off quickly as does the action as Danny Roman (Jackson) is framed for a crime, and he suspects someone on the inside, a fellow officer, is responsible. He takes over an office and several hostages at gunpoint in an effort to get his story out, and demands negotiations with Chris Sabian (Spacey). Roman embarks on a risky poker game, utilizing his negotiator experience, knowing what moves his counterpart will be forced to make.

    The search for the truth Roman embarks on develops quickly, with plenty of chess game tactics with Sabian, while unknown mole(s) presumably are making moves on the sly as well. Paul Giametti, Siobhan Fallon and J.T. Walsh are the hostages hanging by a thread, caught in the middle between Roman and special unit forces being held at bay only by the negotiations. David Morse has a strong role as one of the cops who might blow Roman away at any moment.

    A few minor clich├ęs and plot holes are evident, such as unrealistic police tactics. Also, one scene has Roman playing a bluff which is easy to recognize; Sabian not seeing through it is an unlikely scenario. However, the story is strong enough to allow the poetic license necessary. The mystery unravels at just the right pace to maintain the suspense and intrigue. The entire cast bring realism and urgency to their respective characters, many of whom have important back stories.

    A fine, well thought out movie, that moves quickly and involves you to the end.

  • You’re Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson). Chicago resident, newly married, happy-go-lucky Joe. You’re feted for preventing yet another psycho from killing his daughter. You’re buddies with the guys at the precinct. You’re one of Chicago’s finest hostage negotiators. So how can it go wrong?

    Precisely like this: your partner informs you that a number of cops on the force are scamming from the pension fund. Internal Affairs may be involved. Everything’s been confirmed by an unnamed informant, your partner says. Soon thereafter, your partner is shot. You’re found on the scene. They search your house. They find records of off-shore accounts. The murder weapon is a missing piece of evidence in a case you handled. Case closed. You’re framed. What do you do?

    If you’re Danny Roman, you will march into the office of Niebaum (J.T. Walsh), the Internal Affairs inspector investigating you whom you suspect to be involved in the frame-up, and hold him hostage until he fesses up. In his office are his assistant and Rudy the Rat (Paul Giamatti). And your commander Frost (Ron Rifkin) makes four.

    Enter Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). Chicago’s other negotiator par excellence. A distant colleague. A stranger with no ties to you or your department. You need him. You need to use him to weed out your partner’s killer and the mastermind behind the conspiracy.

    So goes The Negotiator, a gripping talkfest that derives its thrills not from car chases or explosions but rather from the verbal and psychological chess game between two masters. The push and pull, give and take, back and forth ricocheting is heightened by Roman’s short fuse, which can be triggered by just about anything. The scene in which he reduces an inferior negotiator invokes uneasy laughter because you never know if Danny is kidding or not.

    Watching Roman and Sabian match wits is the stuff of which dreams are made. Come to think of it, a film hasn’t assembled this many character actors since John Huston rounded up the usual suspects in The Maltese Falcon. In the lineup: John Spencer and David Morse as the most suspicious of Danny’s friends. Morse is so bulldogged in his eagerness to take every available shot at Danny that even the camera casts accusatory glances his way. Rifkin has the charm of a defanged snake, which serves him well especially in the closing moments of the film.

    The death of J.T. Walsh is certainly a profound loss — he never failed to be unforgettable in his supporting roles. In The Negotiator, he sweats eloquent beads as Danny pushes and prods him into admitting his wrongdoing. But with every loss, a gain: Paul Giamatti. Having already lit up the screen this year with sharp turns in The Truman Show, Dr. Dolittle and Saving Private Ryan, Giamatti establishes himself in The Negotiator as a formidable addition to the pantheon of character actors. As Rudy the Rat, he is comic relief supreme. Belly laughs are to be had by all whenever he speaks.

    Jackson and Spacey, our star duo and a couple of character actors themselves, are electrifying. Both seduce with their unblinking stares and mellifluous voices. Jackson’s bombastic, preacher-like cadence contrasts nicely with Spacey’s serene cool. No one does unleashed fury better than Jackson — he rants and rages like a caged Bengal tiger. Spacey retains his zen-like demeanor even after Morse and Spencer breach his authority.

    Director F. Gary Gray (Set It Off) lends the film a sleek, polished urbanity. He wisely keeps the camera close to the actors. So close that you can detect every flicker, every spasm, every undercurrent of emotion that passes on the actors’ faces. The grip does loosen when the denouement comes to pass though Spacey manages to hold it together. Until that point, The Negotiator is a crackling showcase for its two leads and the Character Actor All-Stars.

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