Samuel L. Jackson plays a good cop who gets framed for stealing money from the unit's pension fund in The Negotiator. So what does an honest hostage negotiator do when faced with jail time and a tarnished reputation? Yup, he breaks into the Internal Affairs office on the top floor of a skyscraper and holds some people hostage until he can figure out who's really to blame. It's one of those thrillers from the late 90s in which every character that speaks is played by a guy you liked in five other movies but still can't pull his name, guys who can elevate a standard police drama into an exceptional thriller because they know how to deliver lines and react to each other believably. The 90s were great because of these guys, and because when Sam Jackson was in a movie, there wasn't a 50% chance he was going to be playing a parody of himself.
The Negotiator really gets moving when Jackson has Kevin Spacey called in, a negotiator from another department who is introduced in his home having trouble talking his wife out of the bathroom after his daughter called her fat. He comes in as a neutral party between Jackson and his former coworkers, some of which are his friends, some his betrayers. It's interesting to watch how these friends reconcile their orders and their loyalty to a friend, which is the main source of tension in the film. The opening scene shows Jackson negotiating, trying to get the hostage-taker near a window so a sniper can take him out, which is mirrored later in the film when Jackson is the man their trying to get to the window and an old friend is the one that has to take the shot. It's a fantastic sequence, and similar situations permeate the entire film. This constantly changing dynamic turns a somewhat mediocre premise into a great one as we watch Jackson and Spacey try to wade through all of the deception and figure out who it is each of them is really against.
The result is essentially a chamber drama in which a bunch of cops try to fool a guy who knows exactly what they're going to do. It's sort of like a low-rent Dog Day Afternoon, and I mean low-rent in a good way. It's pretty impressive to see how exciting it is, despite the fact that there is very little action. It's not a great film, but it's not really trying to be, either. It's just a solid thriller with an amazing cast playing noble cops and shady scumbags, and sometimes that's all we need.
The Negotiator (1998)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox
Featuring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey and David Morse
Plot: In a desperate attempt to prove his innocence, a skilled police negotiator accused of corruption and murder takes hostages in a government office to gain the time he needs to find the truth.
Feature by Bradley Redder of This Week's Movie. Have a Secretly Awesome suggestion that you'd like to propose? Or have a past or present entry you'd like to argue about? Feel free to e-mail Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org.