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The Negotiator

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: David Morse, J.T. Walsh

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Walter Frith review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Walter Frith
3½ stars out of 4

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 why.

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 summer release!

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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