Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wonderful Save The Genre Conceits: The Negotiator Holds Up!

The Good: Acting, Plot development, Mood
The Bad: Somewhat light on character development, No DVD extras
The Basics: The Negotiator is a clever, tense thriller that illustrates just what an amazing cast can do for a crime drama!

Lately, I have been returning to some of my favorite films of my youth and at the top of my list of movies I was eager to re-experience as an adult was The Negotiator. I remembered seeing The Negotiator, but recalled surprisingly few of the specifics. I knew that it was a movie I came to with a love of the works of Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson and that the top billing for the film was a powerhouse move. I remember seeing The Negotiator with my dad, who complimented the film as great for the casting. I remember him saying – and now, having rewatched it, I find myself agreeing – that what made The Negotiator so good was that both men played characters that could so plausibly be police negotiators. At the time, I think I dismissed that as just good casting, but every moment of The Negotiator is a study of truly great acting. From the powerhouses who get top billing to the people who appeared in almost nothing else I’d ever seen who play off them – most notably Siobhan Fallon - The Negotiator is an impressive dramatic thriller.

The Negotiator has a stellar cast and is exciting in a timeless way. Rewatching it, I became worried that the opening credits telegraphed far too much of the underlying character issues that would make the “whodunit” almost irrelevant. Fortunately, director F. Gary Gray is not that dimwitted and the film is smart enough to keep enough surprises for the final act to make the film exciting to watch and rewatch.

Danny Roman is an exceptionally successful police negotiator in Chicago. After he helps save the life of a girl, the Department is partying (despite some feeling that Roman is a bit reckless). Roman’s partner takes him away from the party to tell him he has information on who robbed the police disability fund. When Danny gets a page from his partner the next night, he arrives and finds his partner and friend dead. With Danny implicated, Roman feels that there is a conspiracy tightening around him. Going after his only lead, Internal Affairs Inspector Terence Niebaum, Roman hits a roadblock and becomes convinced he has the rat who his partner was leading him to. In a moment of anger, Roman turns the tables on Niebaum and takes Niebaum, his assistant Maggie and a police snitch who is in Niebaum’s office at the time, hostage.

As Police Chief Al Travis has the Chicago police converge upon the administrative building and put Roman in the crosshairs, Danny Roman demands police negotiator Chris Sabian deal with him. Sabian struggles to make it across town to meet Roman’s deadline, but soon he begins negotiations for the lives of the hostages (which also include Roman’s professional ally Grant Frost). After a botched raid – which gives Roman two new hostages and soon leads to casualties – Sabian begins to see that Roman may be onto something in declaring his innocence. With the aid of Niebaum’s computers, Roman learns about an insurance scam that has robbed the Chicago police officers of almost two million dollars. With enemies in the police force gunning for him, Danny Roman finds an unlikely ally in Chris Sabian as they work to expose the guilty parties within the department.

The Negotiator has enough character to it to push it well above the usual thriller. It might not be as stylish as, for example, The Usual Suspects (reviewed here!), but it is tense and engaging and the performances are top notch. Chris Sabian brings most of the film’s humor to The Negotiator by being unpredictable. Kevin Spacey’s first scene in The Negotiator is a clever personal scene wherein Chris Sabian tries to negotiate with his wife and daughter – unsuccessfully. The overt humor there turns to a very different type of humor when Sabian risks everything by hanging up on Danny Roman when Roman starts making his demands.

The plot to The Negotiator unfolds well. The chain of events that come from Danny Roman reacting and then taking control of his investigation is thrilling to watch. The aid of Rudy and Maggie, Roman and Sabian begin to find the truth . . . and they begin to forge a bond that leads to a very satisfying end.

Along with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, The Negotiator uses the talents of Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, Paul Giamatti, J.T. Walsh, and (to a lesser extent) David Morse very well. All of the men in The Negotiator, as well as Siobhan Fallon and Regina Taylor, give nuanced performances that are dramatic and compelling.

One of the few enduring issues with The Negotiator is the same as with the recent Blu-Ray release for The American President (reviewed here!); the studios did not invest in any bonus features for the DVD release. The result is that viewers are not treated to stories from on the set or featurettes on the making of the film and that is unfortunate.

But The Negotiator is another impressive film where the source material outweighs any of the problems with the digital media for it. Setting a standard for character, performance and plot, The Negotiator is a tight and enjoyable thriller well worth watching.

For other works with Samuel L. Jackson, please visit my reviews of:
”0-8-4” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel Universe Phase 1
The Other Guys
The Clone Wars
Farce Of The Penguins
The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
Kill Bill, Vol. 2
The Incredibles
Changing Lanes
The Red Violin
Jackie Brown
Hard Eight
Pulp Fiction
Jurassic Park


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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