Like the art of music, the art of film draws its influences from many
different sources and the key to making a good motion picture is to
present your own idea and make it unique without ripping off someone
else's work. 'The Negotiator' works on several levels. As a taut and
melodramatic hostage situation, it boils over with memories of 'Dog Day
Afternoon' attached to it. With its story of an honest man framed for a
crime he didn't commit, and set in Chicago, 'The Fugitive' comes to
mind. It's strange how 'The Negotiator' works on its own merit, but it
does. I tried at every point to look for some major flaw that would
bring it down and I couldn't find one. Besides its believable and
gripping story line, it works at the acting level just as strongly with
Oscar worthy performances from two of its cast members.
Samuel L. Jackson is a Chicago police officer who is also one of the
city's chief hostage negotiators and he is very good at his job indeed.
Not because of his willingness to put his life on the line like every
cop does but because his ability to use psychological pressure on his
targets is so intense with a cool measure of duty that you actually
believe that Jackson IS his character. The film opens with dialogue
exchanged between a hostage taker and Jackson in the hallway of a run
down Chicago apartment building. Jackson's mission is successful, and
later his partner (David Morse) tells him that some corrupt cops are
stealing money from the police pension funds. Before he can fill
Jackson in further, he's murdered, and Jackson is framed for the crime.
After the district attorney gives him one day to think about striking a
plea bargain, Jackson visits an internal affairs official (J.T. Walsh)
and demands to know what is going on, believing Walsh is somehow mixed
up in the corruption at hand. All hell breaks loose in the office and
Jackson takes four hostages and demands to resolve the situation by
investigating the case that will prove his innocence. Jackson agrees to
speak only to one hostage negotiator (Kevin Spacey). We later find out
At 139 minutes, you would think that the film would be too long but this
isn't the case at all. Screenwriters James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox have
written a convincing screenplay that doesn't use a phony sense of
audience manipulation to make its case. Director F. Gary Gray uses a
powerful tone of authority on this picture as the film is a good
character study, exciting thriller and it stops just short of being an
action picture, probably the director's most intelligent decision that
keeps 'The Negotiator' from becoming a throw away action picture.
Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of a police officer is probably the most
intelligent and believable I've seen since Al Pacino's turn as a
ferocious cop with attitude in 1995's 'Heat'. Jackson should be
seriously considered for an Oscar nomination for this role. Spacey is
admirable and worthy of an Oscar nomination himself, but the picture
belongs to Jackson. Both actors get to showcase their talent vividly.
Much better in fact than their appearance in 1996's 'A Time to Kill'
when both of their characters in that film were underwritten and ended
up flat in the film's final outcome. Spacey doesn't materialize in 'The
Negotiator' until 45 minutes into the film but his presence is well
noticed and the matching of wits between two men of the same profession
at odds with each other on opposite ends of the law is like watching a
strategic chess match between them.
'The Negotiator' is a clever film which prevents itself from going over
the top and its characters remain people you'll care about. Rare in a
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith