Wednesday, July 16, 2014
(July 1998, U.S.)
By the Summer of 1998, I was what you might consider a full-fledged summer blockbuster addict. I'd seen the good (DEEP IMPACT, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), the bad (GODZILLA, LETHAL WEAPON 4) and the downright ugly (ARMAGEDDON - I need not say more!). THE NEGOTIATOR offered the traditional thrills of action and intensity, but gave us the acting power of Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, whom I was still getting to know from great prior films like SE7EN (1995) and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). From the initial movie poster I'd seen before actually seeing the film, I surmised that perhaps both of these men were hostage negotiators on the same side. As the film turns out, that's not to far from the truth. But as it turns out, they're on opposite sides when Jackson's character finds himself taking hostages to prove his innocence and Spacey is brought in to try and talk him through the whole thing. It's "cat and mouse" in a rather traditional sense, but when you're following two superb actors as these two, you can't help but enjoy getting caught up in the entire game and even find yourself wondering who is ultimately "the cat" and who's "the mouse".
The provocation of the entire event is traditional enough in the sense that honest cop Danny Roman (Jackson) is set up as the fall guy when it's discovered that police corruption is responsible for the embezzlement of money from the department's disability fund, as well as the brutal murder of Danny's own partner. Of course, one can always expect the good cop to get screwed first in a situation like this, but Danny shows just how far off the edge he's willing to go and take the audience in order to gain his justice. If you've seen enough hostage films in your time, then you'll often expect the criminal to be somewhat sharp in knowing what to expect from the cops and the negotiators who stand outside trying to talk him out. However, when the hostage taker is also a hostage negotiator, then we're also expecting every possibility of action and deception to take place against him. In addition, when you've got negotiator going head-to-head with another negotiator on opposite sides of the door, then you can also expect that the acting and dialogue will (perhaps) cut through all the bullshit. Jackson and Spacey pull no punches and pull out every weapon against each other in this saga, all the while not losing a mutual respect for each other and what each of them are compelled to do in this situation.
Unlike a high-rise building thriller like DIE HARD (1988), where the good guy and the bad guys are clearly defined for your expectations, THE NEGOTIATOR supplies the proper level of good guy sympathies at both ends. We know Danny is innocent and we know that in the end, he'll somehow manage to prove it and bring the real corrupt police criminals to justice. We also know that Chris Sabian (Spacey) is the best at what he does and also possesses the patience and empathy to allow Jackson the opportunity to clear his name and his badge. In the end, both men are winners in their own sense, and it would seem a new friendship is developed. As action heroes, both men show their own sense of style. Jackson has always spoken for himself in multiple action roles that have included SHAFT (2000), three STAR WARS prequel films and the more recent Marvel comic book character of Nick Fury in multiple films. Spacey, on the other hand, is more or less a one-hit-wonder as an action star in this film, and it's rather a shame. Not that he didn't absolutely bowl me over in AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) and even make me smile as Lex Luthor in SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), but I can't help but wonder what sort of action hero or bad-ass cop he might have made had he continued the effort. Well, sixteen years later, it may be too late to find out the "what if". No matter. We have THE NEGOTIATOR and that's good enough!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lieutenant Chris Sabian: "I once talked a guy out of blowing up the Sears Tower but I can't talk my wife out of the bedroom or my kid off the phone!"