The Negotiator

Movies can be seen as bookends and the books in between. The bookends are the opening and closing of the film and the books contain the story and subplots of the film. Most movies have beautifully crafted bookends and thin poorly written books. The Negotiator goes the other way. The bookends for The Negotiator are bent out of shape and not beautiful at all. The books that the bookends hold are tense and well written.

The Negotiator has a cliched and unbelievable opening. Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) is the best negotiator in his department. In the opening, Roman is trying to talk a man out of killing his own daughter. Roman finally uses some dangerous tactics to get the girl free and for this, he takes some heat from his commanders. What we find out later, during the cliched after-I-saved-the-day party, is that Roman’s partner suspects that some of the officers in the department are stealing money from the department. Before Roman finds out too much from his partner, his partner is killed. Roman is suspected of killing his partner. Though we know that he is being framed.

What comes next is the contrived part in an instant, Roman’s whole department turns against him. They all think he’s the killer. What doesn’t ring true is that from what I’ve seen, cops are pretty protective of each other. What is portrayed onscreen just doesn’t jive. But, this is also the point in which the movie picks up a lot of steam. Roman takes hostages, one being a key figure in the money stealing deal. Roman wants to force this person to admit to what has been happening; he wants to clear his name. Roman demands that a negotiator from outside his department do the negotiating, and he will only talk to Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). Jackson, who by himself is already a great actor and a big presence on the screen, is now joined by Kevin Spacey as the negotiator. From now on, the acting of these two intense actors drives the movie.

One other thing drives The Negotiator. Though we think that the person that Roman is holding hostage is maybe one of the people involved in the money stealing scheme, we also know that there are others from Roman’s department that are part of the scheme. But who? Director F. Gary Gray and writers James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox throw all kinds of bones out. And it isn’t until the very end that we find out who is behind all of this. I loved this because it kept me guessing as to who was in the scheme and who wasn’t.

Jackson and Spacey are from two different ends of the intense-acting spectrum. Jackson is verbal and loudly eloquent. Spacey, on the other hand, carries an inner intensity that radiates with his eyes and his calm exterior. The two light up the screen. It is the dialogue between these two that kept my attention.

The script by James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox is very knowledgeable about the ways of negotiators. Watch for the lessons about negotiations by Roman during the film. I loved how DeMonaco and Fox worked in a lesson on what to say to hostage takers. Roman also talks about what to look for in order to see that a person is lying. I think that DeMonaco and Fox did some good research before embarking on writing this script. The script itself has a meaty midsection that is sandwiched by a weak opening and closing.

Director F. Gary Gray keeps the movie tight and tense. Roman takes hostages in an office in the midsection of a high rise. Gray uses the tight quarters of this office fully. The only complaint I have is that Gray and the writers threw in an action sequence halfway into the film that didn’t feel right. I thought that Gray and the writers were doing very well with the negotiations between Roman and Sabian, but then all the sudden there appears this action sequence. But, this is a small complaint. Kudos to Gray for putting together a taut film.

The supporting actors all fare well. Look for the late J.T. Walsh in his final performance. David Morse and John Spencer turn up good supporting performances.

Don’t let the bookends of The Negotiator fool you into thinking that it’s a raggedy movie. Don’t Miss The Negotiator in the theatres. This is a solid film that will keep you at the edge of your seat from the beginning to the end.

Edited by Cher Johnson.