Warner Bros. // 1998 // 139 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // November 10th, 2009
He frees hostages for a living. Now he's taking hostages to survive.
Has it really been ten years since The Negotiator came out? Wow, time sure does fly. I clearly recall seeing this in the theaters, and I remember walking out disappointed. Nonetheless, I bought the DVD but have barely watched it. This week I tuned in to watch this movie for the first time in years. Again, I was disappointed.
Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson, Jumper) is a hostage negotiator for the police department. He inserts himself into complicated and deadly situations and finds a way to save the day. His work gets him a lot of press and praise. His partner Nate (Paul Guilfoyle, C.S.I.) has recently found evidence of who has been stealing money from the disability fund. Soon Nate is dead and Danny is the prime suspect. But we know he's innocent as we saw someone else kill Nate. All the evidence is pointing to Danny: that he killed Nate and is the one who is stealing the money. But Danny won't allow himself to be framed and takes drastic action to find the truth: He goes into the Internal Affairs office and kidnaps Inspector Niebaum (J.T. Walsh, Breakdown) and a few other people. Danny firmly believes Niebaum is behind the conspiracy.
Standard operating procedure in a hostage situation is to call in a negotiator, but Danny is the best there is. He knows what the police will do, and he refuses to be talked down. Danny demands that Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey, Superman Returns), a negotiator from the other side of the city, be used as the official police negotiator. Soon, the situation gets very complicated.
Can Danny prove his innocence? Can Chris negotiate a zero death outcome?
The Negotiator is a movie that misses the mark. It's an interesting concept that fails as it's premised on a weak idea with a lame resolution. From a larger perspective, Danny's actions make a certain smidgen of sense: An innocent man who is about to lose everything might be willing to take extreme measures to prove that he has been set up. But in that, the crime of which he is accused doesn't seem worth all this effort. I'm not saying Nate's death is pointless; I'm saying the theft of "just" $2,000,000 isn't worthy of such a grand conspiracy. Then add to that the measures that those involved go to, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Would four people really go to all that trouble for that much money? Shouldn't the stakes be higher, if you're willing to kill and risk your life?
But let's accept the fact that $2,000,000 does motivate a group of people to steal, lie, and kill. We've accepted this idea and it gives the movie its legs. The plot is established, complications ensue, wit battles wit, and we get to the big climax. But what a weak climax it is. Suddenly thrust into an ancillary location, our negotiators begin to work together to find the conveniently kept evidence, and all we get is them shouting down a hallway over an open mic? What a letdown. I'd like to have a completely new ending with everyone stuck in that building, with less of a happily ever after resolution, and then given some hint as to the consequences Danny will have to face for doing what he did.
Despite the obvious flaws with The Negotiator, it's far from a loss. It almost earns redemption from our two leads, Sam Jackson and Kevin Spacey. These guys are so good, so convincingly believable, so smart, and so perfectly matched, you quickly let go of the shallowness of the rationale and simply bask in the glory of their acting. It's great stuff. Any scene with the two of them matching wits, playing outside standard operating procedure, is a great scene. Too bad it takes so long for Kevin to enter the picture. Too bad every scene isn't just the two of them. If it weren't for these two anchoring the movie, it wouldn't be worth watching at all. Yet that is a disservice to a rather solid cast of actors: the aforementioned and late great J.T. Walsh, David Morse (Hack), Ron Rifkin (Alias), John Spencer (The West Wing), Paul Giamatti (Shoot 'Em Up), and Michael Cudlitz (Southland) -- just to name a few. There are a lot of great actors in this one, but the only great parts go to Sam and Kevin.
I'm obviously disappointed with the movie: potential wasted. You have two great actors chewing up the scenes in a mediocre script. But, as the tired saying goes, it is what it is. But what it shouldn't be also is in this new Blu-ray release. As mentioned, I own the DVD so I did a good deal of comparing between the two, and I'm disappointed in this new release. Video is a 2.40:1, 1080p print that feels only marginally better than its predecessor. While there is a noticeable uptick in depth, detail, and realism, it's just a slight quality increase. I didn't see an appreciable upgrade from the DVD to Blu, as there are some scenes that are a touch soft, a bit too dark, and not detailed enough. Audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that mirrors the video upgrade: there isn't much. Dialogue is always clear and precise from the center, the surrounds get inconsistent use for ambience, and the subwoofer puts out decent but not impressive bass when necessary. But, again, the upgrade from DVD to Blu just isn't there. I didn't get that marginal upgrade. And as far as the bonus materials, they are all a direct port from the DVD with nary a single new second of material included: "The 11th Hour: Stories from Real Negotiators," "On Location: Making-Of Featurette," and the trailer are all you get.
Samuel L. Jackson.
The only two reasons to watch this movie.
Potential wasted, that is the story of The Negotiator. It could be a better movie, yet the presence of Sam and Kevin make for some really good moments, and those moments tempted me into a "value" DVD many years ago. With the promise of Blu-ray and the magical quality upgrades this technology is to provide, The Negotiator again disappoints as this new Blu is barely any better than the DVD in terms of video and audio transfers. It's a total failure in simply porting over the bonus material. Because of all these weaknesses, I don't see any reason to buy this Blu. If you really like the movie, buy the DVD. It's just about the same at a far better price.
The Negotiator is hereby found guilty of negotiating in bad faith.
Review content copyright © 2009 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R