You know who deserves a big comeback? Kevin Spacey. Does or can anyone deny what a great actor Spacey is? Even when he’s made shitty films (i.e. K-Pax anyone?), Spacey has held his own and continued to shine onscreen. The Negotiator came out back in 1998 when both Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey were considered hot commodities in Hollywood. Jackson was still riding the Pulp Fiction wave and starring in just about everything and Spacey had just come off the critically acclaimed L.A. Confidential the year before. Both actors were at their career primes and it made only sense to pair them together in a movie.

The Negotiator is admittedly a pretty typical cop action/drama, but its a well written and well executed one that continues to hold up 12 years after its release. Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) is a Chicago police negotiator and he’s a very good one. He’s well respected on the force and he’s newly married. One night, his partner lets him in on a little scandal going on in the police force involving corrupt cops stealing from the police officer pension fund. The partner knows who the dirty cops are, but before he can reveal their identities to Roman, he is mysteriously killed. Roman is then framed and charged for his partner’s murder. Knowing that the legal channels won’t help him clear his name, Roman decides to take the head of internal affairs, who he suspects of being in on the scandal, hostage along with a couple of other people. To negotiate with him is Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), who Roman requests to negotiate with. Together, Sabien and Roman attempt to get to the bottom of who is involved in the scandal before time runs out.

The Negotiator has a pretty decent story, but its mostly dependent on Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Without them, this film would be nothing but a standard police procedural. Both actors bring their game to the table and we just sit back and watch the electricity fly between them. Jackson brings a little of his Pulp Fiction mannerisms to the role, but thats ok because its what made him famous and its what audiences have come to expect from him. Spacey does his calm, collected, I’m-smarter-than-you thing and its especially fitting for his negotiator character. Their meeting may not be equivalent to when Robert De Niro and Al Pacino met for the first time in Heat, but its exciting nonetheless and I would even say it comes close to that.

The Negotiator also surrounds itself with a wonderful supporting cast. I believe this was J.T. Walsh’s last role before he died. If you don’t know who J.T. Walsh, then you should stop reading right now and go rent every film and TV show he appeared in. Walsh was known for playing class-A assholes, which he also plays here as the corrupt internal affairs investigator. The film also stars David Morse, Ron Rifkin (who played the corrupt district attorney in L.A. Confidential), the late John Spencer (The West Wing) and Paul Giamatti, who was still early in his career. Strong actors like these make for strong and fascinating supporting characters, which makes the film all the better.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about The Negotiator was how smartly it was written. Although the story does at times veer towards the implausible, it overall manages to maintain a high level of believability and suspense. I can buy a cop feeling the need to take a bunch of hostages to clear his name. I felt there were a couple of scenes where the writers wrote themselves into a corner and they got themselves out of it through convenient and uninspired writing. I also think the film ends a little too neatly and its characteristic of a very typical Hollywood ending. However, all this is forgivable given the brisk pacing of the film, interesting plot, and strong characters.

I can’t really say that I miss cop action/drama films since we have seen so many over the past few decades, but this is one that I still very much enjoy revisiting from time to time. The Negotiator came out at the tail end of this genre’s run and it was a good film to end the genre with.

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