Movie Review By Heather Clisby
Directed by F. Gary Gray, "The Negotiator" is a "taut drama" that hopes to grow up one day and become a decent film that stars Samuel L. Jackson as Danny Stone and Kevin Spacey as Chris Sobison - both men are police negotiators.
Danny is at the top of his game and the movie begins with an example of just how good he is at hostage negotiations, a contrived hero set-up that is only mildly tense because of its obviousness. Later, he promises his new wife, Karen, he won't be so crazy and she lovingly derides him, all too aware that he "lies for a living."
When Danny's partner, Nick, is bumped off after telling Danny about some nasty corruption in the department's Internal Affairs, deliberate circumstances make Danny the prime suspect. Just to be helpful, Danny tells the entire story to those understanding fellows in . . . Internal Affairs! Then, he's shocked when he's being framed for Nick's murder. Danny may be a top-notch negotiator but he's no brain surgeon.
So, what else is there to do but barge your way into Director Neibaum's office (the big cheese of Internal Affairs, played by the late great J.T. Walsh) and take everybody hostage until the real killer comes forward? Mind you, Danny's been under some strain and he's justifiably upset but the entire movie is like one long, well-armed temper tantrum.
Because Danny's a cop, he makes a savvy criminal and all the big gear is pulled out to stop this "madman." Oddly enough, he will only negotiate through an acquaintance, Chris Sobison, a fellow negotiator in another Chicago precinct who once successfully held ground with a kidnapper for 54 hours. In one of the film's finest scenes, we first meet Chris trying desperately to negotiate his wife out of the bathroom and his young daughter off the phone. He's failing so miserably that Spacey's character is immediately likable.
But not enough to save the script which, unfortunately, is in such a hurry to get to the weaponry that it doesn't stop to build momentum. the tides turn on Danny so quickly - too quickly, in fact, to be believed.
While Jackson and Spacey both turn in fine performances, it is the actor, Paul Giamatti, as the accidental hostage and small-time crook, Rudy, that saves the film. He is the handiest pawn and takes most of the abuse with hilarious whines like, "Who am I? Charlie Brown?" Everytime his bug-eyed face came on the screen, you could feel the audience arch up, ready to respond, he was that much fun.
"The Negotiator" does provide some great twists and charged power plays but the pace in this film is sadly off-beat, which is non-negotiable.
© 1998 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 7/29/98
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