Principal Cast : Samuel L Jackson, Kevin Spacey, David Morse, Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, JT Walsh, Siobahn Fallon, Paul Giamatti, Regina Taylor, Bruce Beatty, Michael Cudlitz, Carlos Gomez, Tim Kelleher, Dean Norris, Nestor Serrano.
Synopsis: In a desperate attempt to prove his innocence, a skilled police negotiator accused of corruption and murder takes hostages in a government office to gain the time he needs to find the truth.
F Gary Gray’s pulsating crime thriller remains one of my favourite guilty-pleasure films of the 90’s, thanks largely to Samuel L Jackson’s career-best performance as a wronged police negotiator, coupled with Kevin Spacey’s highly specific turn as his only ally when things turn to shit. The film has lost little of its crowd-pleasing power or twisting, keep-em-guessing plotting, dabbling in a little bit of Die Hard-esque high-rise antics and a boatload of Jackson’s patented screaming-cool dialogue to keep the viewer guessing. Written by Kevin Fox and James DeMonaco, The Negotiator’s simple premise is abetted by a gangbuster cast of supporting talent – including the late JT Walsh as a slimy Internal Affairs agent, David Morse as a gung-ho special ops Chicago PD officer, and Paul Giamatti as an informant caught in the wrong place at the wrong time – and a supreme directorial flourish from F Gary Gray, in what I would consider his best film to-date.
Jackson plays Chicago PD hostage negotiator Danny Roman, who finds himself charged with the death of his best mate, and fellow officer, when some corrupt cops hatch a plan to steal millions in disability funds from the Department. Rather than go down quietly, he takes several hostages in the Department’s Internal Affairs division, and stipulates his only request is that fellow negotiator Chris Sabian (Spacey) is brought on to the case. In order to flush out the real corrupt cops, Roman and Sabian engage in a variety of procedural interplays, culminating in an expected showdown between the real villains of the piece and a gun-heavy Chicago PD wanting to see Roman dead. Involved in the hostage taking are IA Officer Neibaum (JT Walsh), Neibaum’s PA Maggie (Siobhan Fallon) and low-level informer Rudy Timmons (Paul Giammatti), while the cops’ finest include Police Chief Al Travis (the late John Spencer), Commander Frost (Ron Rifkin), Commander Adam Beck (David Morse) and tacitcal officer Scott (Dean Norris).
The Negotiator is a film that’s immediately accessible to any audience – Jackson’s Everyman character of Danny Roman is an intrinsically Good Guy, a moral center who assumes the best and is ill prepared for the worst, although preparation isn’t his strong suit when he is constantly having to think on his feet. The film’s near constant yelling of exposition throughout ensures the audience never misses critical information at any point, and the screenplay has enough subterfuge, red-herrings and convenience mechanisms in place to wash over some of the more obvious plot holes. It’s a very clever film, and very well performed and directed. The masculine nature of the film, a derivative of the toxic 90’s culture still purging from the previous decade, might feel a touch antiquated but moments of cringe are obliterated by Jackson’s wild-eyed turn and Spacey’s calming, reassuring efforts to talk him down.
Loud, explosive and filled with crowd-pleasing moments, villains and hell-yeah policeman hero worship, The Negotiator is prototypical 90’s action cheese of the highest calibre. Filled with a top-line cast delivering requisite line readings of some of the most preposterous dialogue written for the screen, commanded by F Gary Gray’s superb direction, editing and sound design, and you have a film that’s as popcorn ready as you’ll ever get, all from the comfort of your sofa. A mouth-watering premise, a great Sam Jackson leading role, and a real sense of Hollywood hokum percolate through this potboiler actioner that comes highly recommended. No arguments here: this is a good one.