Roman Drama for Jackson and Spacey
Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson - The Long Kiss Goodnight) is a hot shot police negotiator who find himself accused of corruption and murder when he is discovered standing over his murdered partner who had been investigating police embezzlement. Suspended from his job and facing jail Roman is forced to take matters into his own hands and turns hostage taker in order to prove his innocence. Called in to try and negotiate Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey - A Time to Kill) finds himself in an awkward situation, an outsider in a close knit group of work colleagues who all seem to have ulterior motives when it comes to getting Roman out dead or alive.
It has to be said that the storyline to "The Negotiator" is a simple one but also very effective. Once we've had the set up and understand that Danny Roman is forced to turn hostage taker when he is set up it turns into a game of cat and mouse. But it's an interesting game of cat and mouse because it's basically a cop against cops, a negotiator who knows the tactical play book and so is one step ahead of everyone. It adds a layer of intelligence to the proceedings making it far more interesting than your average hostage/ action movie. And it plays on this layer of intelligence as we are introduced to outside negotiator Chris Sabian; you question why Roman wanted Sabian and as the storyline develops things slowly become clearer. It really is very simple, even at times a little formulaic but it all works.
A part of the reason why it works is because "The Negotiator" is intense and the longer it goes on the more intense it becomes as you get a real sense that time is running out as the FBI get involved and the stress levels of all of those involved reach breaking point. It twists and turns keeping you guessing as to who the bad guys are, giving you a lot of possible suspects to wonder if they are behind the corruption and the setting up of Roland. Even minor twists are expertly thrown in so that once things start to unravel and reveal you get those "I didn't see that coming" moments.
But it's not just one long stream of tension because director F. Gary Gray flashes in moments of action to deliver a different sort of tension. It's good because these scenes of frenetic activity and gun fire break things up but never turn "The Negotiator" into an all out action movie. And they even have a layer of intelligence about them because Roman is so prepared for them.
Of course once you start to over analyse "The Negotiator" contrivances and plot holes start to appear. But it all holds up well on the first watch, the plot holes don't show as you are too busy engrossed in the drama as it unravels, desperate to discover who the bad guys are.
Of course a big reason why "The Negotiator" works is because it stars two powerful actors in Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Jackson plays the character of Roman brilliantly from the opening when we discover that not only is he a top negotiator but also a little dangerous, willing to risk lives to get the result he wants. It makes his character more believable when he turns hostage taker and through Jackson's top acting you get a real sense of this man left no other option than to break the law to clear his name.
And then you have Kevin Spacey as Chris Sabian who is equally good as you get a sense of an almost awkwardness as he realises that he is operating in a team of friends and he can't trust a single one of them, because they all seem to have ulterior motives. In their scenes Spacey and Jackson the whole drama, tension and atmosphere is so electric that it has the knock on effect of making other scenes almost weak in comparison, when in reality they're not.
Aside from Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey "The Negotiator" is not short of stars with David Morse as impressive as ever as the gung ho leader of the tactical team, J.T. Walsh is marvellous as the squirming internal affairs officer and then you have Paul Giamatti adding lighter moments to the drama as hostage Rudy, which may sound strange for such a tense movie, but the almost comedy between Giamatti and Jackson gives it the breaks in tension it needs so that it doesn't become to draining and intense.
What this all boils down to is that "The Negotiator" is a brilliant movie. It's surprisingly simple but thanks to some clever twists and powerhouse performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey it is compelling. You become gripped as the drama unravels and although the storyline does become contrived on closer inspection its still a movie which once watched makes you feel like you've watched something above the norm.