Wednesday, 1 April 2009

DVD Review - The Negotiator

The Negotiator is one of the tensest films I’ve ever seen. The only real drawback with it is needing some muscle relaxants when you’ve finished…

Two actors I’ve been impressed with in recent years are Samuel L Jackson and Kevin Spacey (Pay It Forward). So when I saw that they were co-staring in a film with a plot that had what promised to be an intriguing plot, I had high hopes. These high hopes were not just met – they were exceeded in every way possible.

The Plot

As you might have guessed by the film’s title, Samuel L Jackson is Lieutenant Danny Roman, a negotiator. The film opens with him negotiating the release of a hostage. He is one of the best in the business, well liked and respected by his colleague. But when he is due to meet a friend who has some disturbing information to pass on, he finds himself framed for crimes he did not commit. Suspecting that those in charge of the tribunal are those who are setting him up, he decides the only option to get to the truth is to become a hostage-taker himself. The only negotiator he will talk to is Lt. Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey) – but of course, being a negotiator himself, Roman knows all the tricks… adding to the problems are the fact that not everyone wants to allow Sabian to do his stuff since they want Roman dead in case he finds out the truth…

And that’s as much as I can give you without it turning into a spoiler – but you’ve got the basic idea. There are several plot twists (which is good since one of the main ones is a bit obvious – although in an “ah, I thought so” rather than a “well, duh” kind of way), and along with the intelligent treatment of the plot and some excellent characterisation, makes for a really gripping film. I tend to like psychological thrillers – obviously only the good ones – and this is, perhaps, the best one I’ve ever seen.

The Film

The acting is top notch throughout, with Jackson and Spacey giving excellent performances as similar but very different characters – they have many things in common and they’re both great negotiators, but Spacey’s character is more capable of thinking outside of the conventional rules – for instance, he realises quickly that if he approaches the situation from the usual angle, he will fail and so deliberately does the wrong things to get results. Jackson realises he’s been pushed into a corner when he gets suspended from his job pending the investigation, but refuses to give in no matter how bleak the situation looks. They share a believe in themselves and, importantly, the believe that violence is always the absolutely last resort. (In Jackson’s case, the threat of violence is a different matter altogether.) The supporting cast, including David Morse, Ron Rifkin, and John Spencer, do a great job and I don’t think there is one weak performance in the film. Their characters are not what you’d call fully developed, but they are developed enough for the purposes of their part in the plot. The dialogue is realistic and for once made me want to congratulate the scriptwriters rather than shake them. The cinematography is also very good, with long sweeping shots of Chicago at night that made me want to visit there even more than I already did.

While this film mainly relies on the mental battle going on between Roman and Sabian, and the political battles between Sabian and the Chicago State Police (and at one point, the CSD with the FBI), there are also quite a number of action scenes, which are incredibly well handled. Without losing any of the plot momentum, these seem extremely realistic (thumbs up to the SFX guys) and add to the tension considerably.

The musical score by Graeme Revell (who also did the music for such films as Pitch Black and Tomb Radier)is absolutely superb, one of the best I’ve ever heard, and contributes considerably to the mood of the movie. Everything gels together to make a brilliant film that doesn’t suffer from repeat viewing – perhaps the feeling of tension is diminished slightly by virtue of knowing what’s going to happen next, but it’s still a joy to watch what is truly a masterpiece of movie-making.

Oh yeah, and the final showdown – that’s just priceless. (Betcha don’t guess who the real bad guy is…)


This is a truly excellent film. Every aspect of it has been well thought out and executed with skill and class. It’s also a lot more intelligent than your average thriller, and it features two of the best actors around at the moment.

No kiddies please

This is rated 15 (European – “R” for US) for violence and language – I think that’s about right.

DVD Extras

Don’t get me started on DVD extras… well, this one basically consists of a “Making Of…” documentary. Like most of them I’ve ever seen, it’s pretty boring. ( Nice night-time aerial photography of Chicago, though.) If you like this sort of thing you may well like this too.

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