Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Negotiator, The (1998)

Directed by F. Gary Gray. Aritten by James DeMonaco & Kevin Fox. Photography, Russell Carpenter. Editing, Christian Wagner. Production design, Holger Gross. Music, Graeme Revell. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson (Police Lt. Danny Roman), Kevin Spacey (Police Lt. Chris Sabian), David Morse (Cmdr.Beck). Ron Rifkin (Cmdr. Frost), John Spencer (Chief Travis), J.T.Walsh (Inspector Niebaum),Siobhan Fallon (Maggie), Paul Giamatti (Rudy Timmons), Regina Taylor (Danny Roman's wife Karen), et al. Produced by David Hoberman, Arnon Milhan, Albert Beveridge, et al. Production & distribution companies: several. 139 minutes. R.

In a world chockfull with varied, interesting, even fascinating subjects for films, the pitifully tiny imagination of the people in the movie business, especially Hollywood's, limits itself to a few, well-trodden genres.

One of them is the police action flick --which has aslo reached nauseating proportions in TV series. It is divided into sub-genres: the good cop who gets killed as he is about to retire; the good cop who runs afoul of bad politics; the cop that defies his/her superiors; the cop who sniffs out malfeasance among his colleagues, especially his superiors; the cop who gets wrongly (and/or purposely) made a scapegoat by Internal Affairs; the cop whose unorthodox methods lead him to having his badge and his gun, often to people who are crypto-criminals; the cop who openly (or better yet, hiddenly) is discriminated against because of his/her race or ethnicityŠ . And on and on, ad infinitum.

Lt. Danny Roman, well played by Samuel L. Jackson works for the Chicago Police Department. He is their ace negotiator, that is, the man who knows how to deal with persons who are holed up somewhere, with arms, or hostages, or explosives, or a death-wish, or a combination of the above. The principal task of the negotiator is to talk the other party into not harming the hostage(s) if any, into surrendering without doing (more) damage to the police and other authorities, and such.

This movie opens with a host of heavily armed police also displaying state of the art surveillance techniques, surrounding the abode of a dangerous --and most likely deranged-- fellow who holds a young woman hostage. Danny Roman saves the day by subduing him without bloodshed. He is --oce more, I take it--the hero of the day. (A pity there's no song written about him, such as that for a World War II airman who shot down Zeros, i.e. Japanese planes. "Johnny Zero/is the Hero/of the Day" went the song.)

Cut to a crowded police party. I could not tell whether it was specifically or incidentally a celebration of Danny's prowess. It's a hell of a nice party and a well-filmed sequence that, among other things, illustrates the friendships among the policemen and their families, the love of Danny and his so nice wife, and other positive aspects of the Chicago Force.

Then Danny's buddy takes him aside and tells him that there is a internal crime, with police people systematically stealing from the Police Fund. But there are too many ears around. Specifics will be given Danny when he meets his pal at night. But later, as the buddy waits for Danny in an empty lot, he gets shot to death. When Danny gets to that place, he is arrested as the killer.The whole setup, the framing of the good cop, the planted evidence, seems to me to be premature, but let this pass. The speed of the action does not give you time to analyze things.

So far, so good - and so bad for Danny. The evidence is against him, all the more so as Danny and we, the viewers, suspect that the whole scheme involves higher ups.

Let me cut to the basics of the yarn. Danny reacts strongly by holing up at the Police Headquarters in a tall building, taking police or police-related hostages, being surrounded by every conceivable law-enforcement body armed to the teeth with offensive gear and clad in defensive gear that makes them look like Martians. There are tons of vehicles on the ground, helicopters galore flying around, scores and more scores of people in uniform, communications gizmos and more, plus F.B.I. agents. It is all spectacular, impressive and well shot (I mean cameras.) It is like a war scene, so much so that it makes you feel that if those people and tools had been available some sixty years ago, World War II's defeat of Germany would have come much faster than it did.

The situation is most confusing, with the various leaders of the Chicago Police separately issuing orders and planning strategies. The holed--up Lt. Danny Roman demands (not just requests) for the authorities to bring in another negotiator, someone he could deal and powwow with. He is Police Lieutenant Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey) from another district. Sabian, take it, must be The Other Great Negotiator in the Windy City. Sensible Sabian accepts this duty on condition that he is the one to plot, plan and give all the orders, unimpeded by too many cooks who would spoil the broth. He gets his wish.

A lot, a very big lot of actions, situations and such takes place, mostly in a claustrophobic way. As is my wont, I shall not discuss this, whether to sum things up or give details. However, I must say that too much is far too much; that matters get stretched out beyond a normal attention span. And while Samuel L. Jackson is a very good actor, and in his embodiment of Danny Roman feels very real, I could not for a moment forget that this was a too long movie-movie. One that gets tiring. One that feels fabricated. One that requires suspension of disbelief time and again.

If you could get a bunch of people to watch this film together, and if you could stop the projection after many scenes or even sequences, and discuss what you have seen, I bet twenty Euros that you'd get different interpretations as well as many questions.

Of the actors, Paul Giamatti, in a supporting role as a con-man included among the hostages, does very well. The main hostage is played by J.T. Walsh as Inspector Niebaum who is Lt. Danny Roman's main suspect as the leader of the Police Fund stealers and as the honcho for framing Danny. Most unloquacious as a hostage, Walsh has a fine panoply of facial and bodily expressions that speak volumes. This excellent character actor died unexpectedly in 1998. "The Negotiator" is dedicated to him.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel