An absolute comfort viewing of the highest order, The Negotiator is a slick and enjoyable thriller, even if it is pretty predictable how things are going to pan out by the final act. The script by James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox mixes in wit and some real tension, and director F. Gary Gray is a dependable pair of hands for the material, leading to what I view as a personal highlight from his filmography.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Danny Roman, a skilled hostage negotiator who finds himself set up on charges of financial wrongdoing and the murder of a colleague. With no other way to get to the truth, Danny takes a number of hostages. This leads to a stand-off in which the hostage-taker can easily stay one step ahead of those trying to resolve the situation. Danny requests to speak to Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), another skilled negotiator, famous for de-escalating situations to give him a record free of fatalities. Not knowing which of his friends has betrayed him, Danny decides to put his trust in a stranger. The evidence certainly seems stacked against him though, but we know he's innocent . . . because he's Samuel L. Jackson.
Although this runs for just over two hours (the runtime on PAL format is about 134 minutes) it doesn't feel as if it outstays its welcome. Freidnships and tensions are set up from a smart opening sequence that shows our hero at work, getting the best result while infuriating those who want to barge in and end the situation quicker. Beck (David Morse) is one of those put out, keen to send in the men with guns, which makes him a potential suspect when the conspiracy to frame Danny starts to become clear. There are plenty of others to suspect, however, thanks to the cast being so loaded with great actors.
As well as the leads, both doing brilliant work, you have enjoyable performances from Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, the inimitable J. T. Walsh, Michael Cudlitz, Tim Kelleher, Nestor Serrano, Dean Norris, Regina Taylor, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, and Paul Giamatti. And Morse, of course. By the standards of most people, that is a cast absolutely packed with quality actors, and none of them are just sleepwalking through the film.
More about the brainpower than firepower, those seeking a thriller with some big action moments may be disappointed by this. It's quite removed from the kind of thrillers that were churned out with the names Simpson and/or Bruckheimer attached (not that there's anything wrong with those, especially when you have enough popcorn to hand). This is fairly restrained throughout, with only a couple of important deaths helping to propel the plot forward, but the sparks fly as Jackson gets to outwit and shout down those around him, particularly when he shares the screen with Spacey. It holds up well, and I will happily revisit it any time.
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