The year was 1998 and Michael Bay’s Armageddon was in the middle of sweeping the box office and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was just hitting it. But in a cluster of giant blockbusters sat a film from acclaimed music video director F. Gary Gray. It was his third feature and starred Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey.
Yes, I’m talking about that amazing action/thriller known as The Negotiator.
Danny Roman is the Chicago Police Department’s best hostage negotiator, and seems to be on an unstoppable reign of high profile cases. But things do a complete one eighty when his partner Nate is found dead in his car. Danny is now the prime suspect in a case that goes all the way to the top. His only recourse is to take over the CPD’s internal affairs headquarters in an attempt to unravel the mystery of his frame job. His only demand? A fellow hostage negotiator named Chris Sabian.
Why We Love It
This film came at the perfect time. A time when high profile character actors were taking jobs in action films via the Jerry Bruckheimer model. Jackson does what he does best in this film, achieve a presence that makes you piss your pants just a little bit. His struggle as Roman to get to the truth is nothing new in movies, but F. Gary Gray’s execution of the story was above and beyond anything people were expecting in this film.
Kevin Spacey doesn’t show up until about half way through, but when he does the film enters a whole new caliber of acting. Spacey brings something to the film that until that point no one was supplying, a person for Jackson to play off of. At the half way point, Jackson stops being the only character you’re sucked into, and he then begins to share the spotlight with Spacey.
And don’t even get me started on all the power house supporting talent in this film. Ron Rifkin is such a wonderful actor to just watch, even when he’s chained to a filing cabinet. David Morse is probably the most compelling SWAT commander of all time. And it’s not just here, that man always brings his A-game to any role he’s in. And John Spencer just simply delivers as Roman’s commanding officer.
Frankly, it didn’t matter if you were an extra or the academy award winner in the room, if you were in The Negotiator you brought your best, and I can’t help but think that, that has all to do with Gray’s direction.
The Moment We Fell In Love
For me, the ultimate moment of the film came right after the first time the cops make an attempt to get inside the office where Roman is held up. Sabian goes on a great tear about how he has to be the one in charge or he’ll walk. And then once he gets on the walkie with Roman, Roman tells him that the cops have to pay and he’s going to kill a hostage. And the most heart wrenching moment, he does… Sort of, but I won’t say any more than that.
It’s that kind of bait and switch that made me fall in love with The Negotiator.
They say that the third time is a charm. And man did that hold true for F. Gary Gray in this film. The Negotiator is Hollywood film making at its finest, and is a prime example of what all thriller films should be striving to achieve.