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The Negotiator
1998 - R - 139 Mins.
Director: F. Gary Gray
Written By: Kevin Fox and James DeMonaco
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, David Morse, Paul Giamatti, J.T. Walsh
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Danny (Samuel L. Jackson) is the best at what he does: hostage negotiation. He's the guy who talks people out of blowing their brains out on national television. He's the guy who puts his life at risk in order to save others'. He is the type of guy who everyone pats on the back and buys a beer or two after the day's work is over and everyone is safe.

And he's just been framed for murder.

The outcome is delicious: Danny takes his own hostages, and since he himself was once a negotiator, he knows the rules of the game. He requests that the police eager to shoot his head off get him Chris (Kevin Spacey), a man he has absolutely no connection with. "Why me?" he asks Danny. The answer is, more or less, that sometimes the people you don't know are the only ones you can trust. (How's that for a tagline?)

Danny's ex-pal, Nate, was suspicious that some cops on the force were stealing money and that guys from the FBI were in on it. So he went to Danny with his story, claiming that he had an informant with evidence of the claim. But when he showed up dead with Danny hovering over his corpse, all blame was shifted on Danny and he was threatened with the prospect of jail, losing his badge and his new wife.

So he took the man responsible for his arrest allegations (J.T. Walsh) hostage, as well as some of his acquaintances and an ex-criminal, Rudy (Paul Giamatti), whose sole purpose in the film is to become the comedic relief.

Danny suspects that Walsh's character is the guy who set up the killing and had convicting evidence placed in his home. And so he says that he won't surrender until he gets some answers.

This is an intriguing premise. Hostage negotiator becomes hostage taker but knows the rules of the game, so he doesn't take any B.S. from the hostage negotiator playing against him. It sounds more confusing than it is. Actually, it's quite simple, and the premise of this would in itself work alone--but it's even got a deeper plot involving corrupt cops going, and that makes it more than just a nice premise.

Kevin Spacey ("American Beauty") is one of my favorite actors, and once he is introduced close to an hour into the film, he takes charge. But the man who really drives the picture throughout is Samuel L. Jackson, who can turn in great performances and sometimes very weak ones (I heard his character dies in "Star Wars III": Yippee!). This is one of his all-time best.

The film loses in the second half when it starts to become too slow at somewhere around two + hours, but the first half is a blast with a clever idea and some powerhouse performances by both Jackson (in arguably his best role since "Pulp Fiction") and Spacey (who shouted great in "The Ref" and proves here that he can do so under dramatic instances). This is in fact one long shouting match, and I never for a moment doubted any single performance in this film--especially the two lead stars' roles. The film is certainly smarter than a lot of movies I've seen that rely solely on a convenient plot, and it knows how to construct and evoke smart dialogue and interplay between its two great leads. This is the kind of movie that people leave the theater saying, "They don't make 'em like that anymore."

What a nice, refreshing little treat.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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