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(1998) (Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: Chicago's best hostage negotiator takes a group of people hostage himself and must deal with another experienced negotiator while trying to prove that he didn't kill his partner.
Danny Roman (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) is the best hostage negotiator on the Chicago police force. Known for his often unorthodox ways of dealing with terrorists, his behavior irritates S.W.A.T. commander Adam Beck (DAVID MORSE), while worrying his friend and associate, Commander Frost (RON RIFKIN) and his supervisor, Chief Al Travis (JOHN SPENCER).

Newly married to wife Karen (REGINA TAYLOR), Danny agrees to tone down his crazy demeanor. Yet when his partner is killed after investigating some internal embezzlement of pension funds and Danny is framed as the suspect in both matters, he has no choice but to take radical action. Suddenly and unintentionally taking internal affairs Inspector Niebaum (J.T. WALSH) hostage, along with Frost and several others, Danny suddenly finds himself poised against his own team.

Knowing that he needs time to uncover the truth and discover who's behind it, Danny demands that Chicago's other top negotiator, Chris Sabian (KEVIN SPACEY) be brought in. Aware of Sabian's nonviolent track record, Danny realizes that Sabian could be a powerful ally in his quest although the two don't know each other except through reputation.

As Beck and his team move into position around Danny's 20th floor barricade and the FBI arrives ready to take over the operation, Sabian races against time to diffuse the potentially explosive situation before Danny and his hostages are injured or possibly killed.

If they're fans of anyone in the cast or of action thrillers, they probably will. Preteens, however, should have little or no interest in the film.
For violence and language.
  • SAMUEL L. JACKSON plays a top hostage negotiator who finds himself framed for murdering his partner and embezzling funds. Faced with going to jail without any credible defense, he spontaneously takes several people hostage so that he can solve the mystery and clear his name. Along the way he shoots back at some police officers and cusses quite a bit.
  • KEVIN SPACEY plays another qualified negotiator who wishes to resolve the problem in a nonviolent fashion.
  • DAVID MORSE plays the S.W.A.T. commander who's never really liked Danny and has no problems ordering his men to take out the kidnaper.
  • J.T. WALSH plays a shady internal affairs investigator who may know more than he's telling about the murder and raiding of the force's pension fund.


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    Loosely based on real life events and featuring two of my personal favorite actors working in the cinema today, "The Negotiator" is a compelling and often thrilling "whodunit" that unfortunately runs out of gas and momentum before the end credits roll. With great performances and an intriguing premise and initial setup, however, the film manages to end up as an above par entry in this genre.

    As directed by F. Gary Gray, who honed his skills directing music videos before hitting the big screen with "Friday" and "Set It Off," this film has the requisite action sequences, suspenseful moments, and enough cat and mouse elements to be a big crowd pleaser this summer, and our sneak preview audience seemed to enjoy it immensely.

    For much of the film -- and in particular its beginning -- everything works like clockwork. Relative novice screenwriters James DeMonaco ("Jack") and Kevin Fox start off the movie with a thrilling introductory sequence, and do a decent job setting up the characters and the parameters of the story. They've injected plenty of tension-breaking humor -- mostly in the form of a weasel-like hostage (played by Paul Giamatti) -- and have established a credible and highly anticipated cat and mouse game between two highly trained professionals.

    That works for a while and we revel in the tactics deployed by the two negotiators as each feels out the other for strengths and weaknesses. Then, however, and rather inexplicably, things start to get questionable and far-fetched. The characters who had so carefully "played by the books" suddenly do things only amateurs would accidentally do, such as when Danny forever stands with his back to a newly blown open window, knowing full well that snipers are poised everywhere to take him out.

    Perhaps he's banking on the loyalty factor where he believes his own team couldn't shoot him, but that never seems to be a conscious tactic and his sudden sloppiness detracts not only from our "admiration" of him, but also of the film's overall suspense. While I understand that much of what occurs is done to heighten the suspense -- the audience fears that he'll be shot in that sequence -- it and several other later moments (that I won't give away) unfortunately dumb down what had been a nicely constructed intellectual exercise for this sort of genre.

    The fact that we know Danny is the good guy who didn't commit the crimes also inevitably hurts the film's buildup of tension and suspense. While we completely understand what he's doing and root for his success, it's highly unlikely that many moviegoers will think that he'll be killed, or more importantly, that he'll kill or even harm his hostages. Logic dictates that if he does so, he'll ruin his chances of freedom even if he clears his name of the other crimes.

    What would have worked much better would have been if we arrived at the scene of his partner's murder just as the cops did, and thus wouldn't know whether he really was the perpetrator or not. That would have added not only an additional layer of suspense to the film, but it would also have kept the audience on its toes throughout, never sure of his guilt or innocense. Such "gray" characters are always much more fun to watch, and while many of the supporting characters are portrayed that way, the film would have benefitted had our protagonist been give the same opportunity.

    I understand the cinematic device employed by the filmmakers where Danny is instantly a sympathetic character because we know he's innocent and has been framed. Such a ploy also worked a few years back with Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive." The difference, however, is that Dr. Kimble didn't take hostages and act like he was going to kill them -- we never would have bought into that notion and -- as set up -- we don't here either.

    Another factor that made "The Fugitive" so good was that Kimble was on the run in Chicago, whereas for the most part Danny is holed up on one floor a building in the windy city. While that does generate some suspense, it's so enclosed that it nearly eventually suffocates the built up tension and gives the filmmakers no way out but to deliver some questionable and unbelievable plot developments to keep the story moving forward.

    All of this isn't to say that the film is without suspense. To the contrary, there's plenty of potentially suspenseful scenarios present to make the film fun and thrilling to watch. It's just that if the filmmakers had done a little more careful planning, the film could have been so much better. As it stands, it's enjoyable enough, but the fact that they back the plot into a corner with nowhere to go but into "GiveMeABreakVille," ruins the fun they had previously built up.

    Fortunately, the performances make up for nearly all of those second half problems. I've always thoroughly enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson's performances ("Pulp Fiction," "Die Hard With A Vengeance") and while this isn't his best to date, it's still quite good simply because of the actor behind it. Jackson always manages to easily portray bottled intensity that's ready to pop -- that look he can get in his eyes is a killer -- and such a characteristic perfectly fits this character.

    After a nicely executed family scene where Sabian has problems negotiating with his own wife and daughter, Kevin Spacey ("The Usual Suspects," "L.A. Confidential") easily slips into his character and -- until the suspension of disbelief is stretched toward the end -- is completely believable in his role. Audiences always love characters who are completely in control, and Spacey makes the audience believe he's the only man for the job.

    Supporting performances are good across the board. David Morse ("The Rock") is good as Danny's constant thorn in the side, while the late J.T. Walsh ("Breakdown") is very good as the possibly corrupt investigator that you can't help but detest.

    The scene stealer award, however, goes to Paul Giamatti ("The Truman Show") as one of the hostages. Present mainly for comic relief, he's been given some of the best (and certainly the funniest) lines in the film and reminds one of Joe Pesci's "Lethal Weapon" Leo Getz character without being as irritating or quite as hyper.

    My only other complaint with the movie is that it would have been nice had the filmmakers allowed Jackson and Spacey's characters more time and space to spar within their intellectual and psychological battlefield. They get some early moments to do so, but the necessity to move the plot along and inject some audience pleasing action into the mix pretty much wipes out the possibilities for more cerebral trickery and maneuvering. It's not a horrible loss, but it -- like the other previously mentioned omissions -- would have made this a classic suspense thriller.

    As it stands, it's still quite good and anything but boring, and any film featuring the likes of Jackson and Spacey already gets a nod of appreciative approval from this critic. With compelling performances, a mostly decent script and superb suspense inducing direction by Gray, this film should be a big, late summer audience pleaser. We give "The Negotiator" a 7.5 out of 10.

    Here's a summary of the film's content. Profanity is extreme with nearly 80 "f" words and an assortment of others. Violence is also extreme, with several people shot and killed, and all of those moments and some brief gun standoffs make for a great deal of suspenseful moments.

    The main character breaks the law and uses threats of violence to prove his point (that he's innocent, and some moviegoers may have a problem with the message that may convey to kids). Beyond some other brief comments related to oral sex, the rest of the categories don't have much more in the way of major objectionable material. Even so, you may want to take a closer look at the content should you or someone in your home wish to see this film.

  • In the opening credits, we see some still photos of people raising champagne glasses in a toast, and some people drink in a bar early in the movie.
  • A person shoots Danny's partner in the head, killing him in his car and spraying blood onto the window (and we see just a trickle of blood down the guy's head).
  • Danny's arm is a little bloody after being grazed by a bullet.
  • Frost has a tiny bloody scratch on his head, as does a S.W.A.T. guy that Danny earlier hit.
  • The shirt of a man who's been fatally shot is rather bloody.
  • A man is shot and falls to the floor and we briefly see a small pool of blood spreading across the floor. Later, we see that this man's hand and shirt are also bloody.
  • Obviously those involved in the murder of Danny's partner, the embezzlement of the pension funds as well as those responsible for setting up Danny have both.
  • A distraught father holds a rifle to his daughter's head and wants to commit suicide in front of his wife.
  • Beck doesn't seem to like Danny from the beginning, and has no problems ordering a full breach on his barricaded position.
  • One of the hostages calls Danny "bro."
  • Other scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • A distraught father holds a rifle to his daughter's head. Danny and the rest of his team are poised to take action, and Danny eventually confronts the man who continuously aims his weapon at him, until another gunshot ends the standoff (this goes on for several minutes).
  • Once Danny takes Niebaum and the others hostage, the movie is rather suspenseful from that point on, especially when Danny acts like he's going to kill some of the hostages and during many other tense standoffs and violent encounters. In addition, there are several stressful moments between Sabian and the other officials trying to run the show.
  • Handguns/Rifles/Machine Guns/Percussion Grenades: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • A 21-gun salute accompanies a funeral.
  • Phrases: "Shut the f*ck up," "Dumb f*ck," "Blow job" and "Blowing" (sexual), "Pissed," "Piss," "Pisses them off," "Bitch," "Shut up," "Bastards," "Don't screw me now" (non sexual), and what sounded like "Whores."
  • A cop suddenly knocks on the window of a car in which Danny and his partner are discussing things.
  • A heavy amount of tension-inducing music fills much of the movie.
  • None.
  • At least 78 "f" words (5 used with "mother"), 26 "s" words, 2 slang terms using male genitals ("pr*ck" and "c*ck"), 11 asses (2 used with "hole"), 10 hells, 5 S.O.B.'s, and 7 uses of "G-damn," 2 each of "Oh God" and "Oh Christ" and 1 use each of "Jesus," "God," "Christ," "For Christ's sakes" and "Oh Jesus" as exclamations.
  • A distraught man says that he wants to commit suicide while his wife is "sucking that fat pr*ck's c*ck."
  • Another cop comes up to Danny and his partner who are in a car (who are discussing matters) and says, "Are you guys blowing each other?" Danny responds, "I was about to get a blow job until you showed up."
  • We see a reoccurring poster of a woman in a bikini top (nothing revealing) that appears in the background of several shots.
  • Playfully harassing an inexperienced hostage negotiator, Danny tells this guy never to say "no" to a kidnaper. He then proceeds to ask the guy if he's ever cheated on his wife and whether he's ever "dressed up like a schoolgirl and got your ass spanked."
  • In the opening credits, some still photos show a guy with a cigar in his mouth, and some people smoke in a bar scene early in the movie.
  • Frost smokes a few times as does another cop and Danny's partner.
  • A distraught man holds a rifle to his daughter's head while wanting his wife to appear so that he can commit suicide in front of her.
  • Karen must deal with Danny's predicament.
  • We see a funeral scene and several brief others where the family of Danny's slain partner grieve.
  • Real life hostage situations and the professionals who risk their lives to diffuse the situations.
  • The fact that Danny breaks the law and threatens to kill others so that he can prove that he didn't earlier break the law.
  • A distraught father holds a rifle to his daughter's head. Moments later, he's shot and wounded by a sniper.
  • A person shoots Danny's partner in the head, killing him in his car and spraying blood onto the window (that we briefly see again in flashback).
  • Some officers in Niebaum's office try to physically remove Danny. He struggles with them and then with one over his gun which he eventually grabs and aims at others. He then fires it at another cop and causes the others to give up their weapons.
  • Two S.W.A.T. guys burst through the windows, firing their weapons and slightly wounding Danny (on his arm). He then holds a gun to a hostage and makes them drop their weapons, while Beck orders for a sniper to shoot and kill Danny.
  • Danny then knees one of the S.W.A.T. guys in the gut and takes him into a closet and hits him on the head, knocking him out. He then aims his gun at him (we only see Danny) and fires it (leaving us in the dark for some time about whether he shot the guy or not).
  • Danny and Sabian have a brief, gun pointing standoff.
  • Danny violently smacks Niebaum, and Karen later smacks Sabian.
  • S.W.A.T. guys shoot at Danny and he shoots back. He then throws several percussion grenades at the men, knocking them to the floor and more shots are fired back and forth (this goes on for several minutes), resulting in one guy being fatally wounded.
  • Danny throws a grenade that catches office furniture and other items on fire.
  • Another standoff occurs between the good cops and the bad cops that ends with two men being shot and wounded (along with a computer receiving a bullet).

  • Reviewed July 22, 1998

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