The Negotiator (1998)

D: F. Gary Gray
S: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey

Thoroughly predictable but generally entertaining thriller which trades heavily on the presence of its leads. Samuel L. Jackson is the Chicago cop accused of murder and fraud who decides to take hostages in a federal building until he gets to the truth. Kevin Spacey is the specialist negotiator brought in to talk him down. The twist: Jackson is himself the city's best negotiator and knows all the tricks of the trade. Slickly done and quite lively for a film with such a limited set of locations to play with, it demonstrates how effective old-fashioned craft can be when it is matched with suitable players to keep the audience interested. Jackson is very good in the lead, portraying a much greater range of emotion than many of his popular mainstream roles. He is matched nicely by Spacey, who balances his usual underplay with some tense and excited scenes which allow the character room to challenge the audience's expectations. There is also a solid supporting cast, though the late J.T. Walsh looks unwell and is given little to do in what is actually a pivotal role.

This is strictly routine cookie-cutter product, but it does its job efficiently and entertainingly. It makes few demands on the viewer and should play well on video or TV. It is hardly the pinnacle of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking, but it fills a gap on a slow night.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.