The Negotiator

When the city of Chicago faces a tough hostage situation, they call in Danny Roman. Roman is the best at what he does, and proves it during an intense opening standoff involving a deranged, disgruntled husband holding his daughter hostage. Willing to put his life on the line, Roman is a hero to the masses, but is considered reckless by his new wife Karen.

negotiatorSo in a tender moment, Roman tells Karen that his crazy days are over. “See that train leaving,” he asks Karen playfully. “Crazy is on it.” For a man starting a new life, it only makes sense. Little else makes sense in the James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox screenplay, supposedly based on a true story. “The Negotiator” is a prime example of how good actors and a director can rise above the material and make it much more than it really is. The script is top-heavy with implausible situations and plot holes big enough to fit Kenneth Starr’s ego through them. Thanks to bullet-proof direction by F. Gary Gray (“Set It Off”) and star turns by Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, “The Negotiator” is actually suspenseful and entertaining. Jackson is superb as Roman, a simple man who has a gift for defusing volatile situations. He’s the man I would want in such an emergency. So who do you call when the top negotiator becomes the hostage taker? That’s an interesting premise, one that gets a maximum workout. When Roman is framed for killing his partner by crooked cops stealing millions from he pension fund, his situation becomes so desperate that he ends up taking Chief of Internal Affairs Terence Niebaum (J.T. Walsh) hostage to clear his name. Also in the room are Niebaum’s no- nonsense secretary Maggie (Siobahn Fallon), and street informant Rudy (Paul Giamatti). Police Commander Frost (Ron Rifkin) joins the fray when he tries to talk Roman down. Well fortified on the 20th floor of a Federal Building, Roman knows all the tricks of the trade, and manages to keep the police at bay. His only demand is that fellow police negotiator Chris Sabian (Spacey) be brought to the scene. We first meet Sabian in what looks like a tough negotiation. It isn’t until the camera pulls back that we realize he’s trying to coax his wife out of the bedroom to go on a ski trip. A cruel remark by their daughter has sent her into hiding, and Sabian uses his skills to soothe the situation. Sabian is good, and just the man to neutralize the Roman hostage situation. He too knows the rules of the game, and it’s these confrontations between the two that elevate the film from standard action fare into something more dramatic. What a pleasure it is to watch to actors at the top of their form square off against each other. While Roman tries to unravel the conspiracy from inside, Sabian tries every trick in the book to resolve the situation without violence. Try telling that to hot-to-trot Commander Adam Beck (David Morse), who believes Roman is guilty and is willing to bring him down one way or another. “Set It Off” showed director F. Gary Gray’s ability to create intense situations with just a handful of players, and he manages the same with “The Negotiator.” Things really pick up when the key players begin to realize that Roman is telling the truth, but too late to stop the Feds and the Frost from making some fatal mistakes. At 138 minutes, “The Negotiator” is also long in the tooth. It could have easily been tightened by both the director and writers. Thank goodness they have pros like Jackson, Spacey, Regina Taylor and the incomparable J.T. Walsh on their side making even the most ridiculous plot point seem relevant. I especially liked the sassy Fallon as the secretary who knows more than she should. “The Negotiator” looks great, well lit and shot by “Titanic” director of cinematography Russell Carpenter. Christian Wagner’s editing is a major plus, while the score by Graeme Revell highlights the underlying tension. Not a bad film, “The Negotiator” could have been a great film with a little more thought.


VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Simply stunning 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that delivers crisp images with excellent color saturation. Director of photography Russell Carpenter (“Titanic”) spent a lot of time and effort to create a very distinct look, and the digital transfer respects every frame of that labor. Hardly a trace of compression artifacts, while the pristine negative provides for a virtually flawless transfer. A lot of the action in “The Negotiator” happens in shadows, and the quality of the image never wavers during these low-lit scenes. They are as sharp and as vivid as the rest of the film. The blacks are industrial strength, holding up under the tightest of scrutiny. Check out the nighttime aerial shot outside the building early in to the film, and you’ll marvel at the level of detail in the picture. The flesh tones are especially flattering, while the rest of the colors appear natural and realistic. Just a superior transfer.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Complex sound design makes good use of the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track, kicking up its heels when necessary, but also allowing the smallest nuance to come through loud and clear. The dialogue is sharp and clear, an important asset in this film, while the ambient noise is so realistic it will play tricks with your mind. The stereo separation is definitive, putting the noise where the action is. Brave basses thunder through the room on cue, while the gripping score by Graeme Revell tests the range on your sound system frequently. No audible hiss or distortion. For fun, I also checked out the French language 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track, and the dubbing job was just sensational. If I didn’t know better, I would swear I watching a foreign film.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions for the hard of hearing and subtitles in French.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

This “Premiere Collection” edition contains two documentaries. The first is “The 11th Hour: Stories from Real-Life Negotiators,” and “On Location,” a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. Both are noteworthy additions. “11th Hour” features an interview with a real life police negotiator as he discusses the differences between his job and his job as it is depicted in the film. The “On Location” documentary is an informative look at the creative process that goes into every aspect of getting a major Hollywood movie made, from location scouting to creating duplicate sets in Hollywood. There’s also an interesting song- and-dance routine the film maker’s had to do when they informed the producers that the film was going from a small two-character piece to a major action film. The DVD also features cast and crew bios and filmographies, production notes, creative main and scene access menus, plus five theatrical trailers. The trailers include “The Negotiator,” “Sphere,” “A Time to Kill,” “L.A. Confidential” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” all films featuring Samuel L. Jackson or Kevin Spacey (or both).

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

Unlike the intense negotiations at the heart of this film, there’s no arguing that if you like intelligent action films, “The Negotiator” is a keeper.

VITALS: $24.98/Rated R/140 Minutes/RSDL/Color/39 Chapter Stops/Snapcase/#16750




HMO: Warner Home Video

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