Is it safe yet to again talk about Kevin Spacey? Before his seemingly deserved fall from grace, he was about as popular of an actor as there was in the business. I never completely shared this wide sentiment. To be fair, there were some flicks in which he appeared that I enjoyed. I am not one of the legion of fans of The Usual Suspects (1995). Oooo, Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey) is Keyser Söze. Big deal. Further, I have yet to see a full episode of House of Cards (2013-2018), though I am aware of the show’s themes. I have difficulty stomaching government corruption in real life, and I do not care for my entertainment to celebrate it. I do like Baby Driver (2017), yet I would not call Spacey the star. The first movie in which I remember enjoying any of his performances is a probably long forgotten cop flick called The Negotiator (1998).
Having said all this about Kevin Spacey, it should be noted from the start that the focus in The Negotiator is Lieutenant Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson). He is the main eponymous police officer, and we see him right away attempting to talk a bad guy into letting go those he is holding captive. The dingy apartment is somewhere in a dingier part of Chicago and surrounded by city law enforcement, with snipers at the ready from a window across the street. Using a pre-arranged signal, Danny positions himself in the room, only to move out of the way at the last moment so that the perpetrator can be wounded and taken into custody. We then move to a slightly less dingy bar where those involved in this recent crisis are enjoying some post-victory revelry. Interrupting the dancing is Nate Roenick (Paul Guilfoyle), Danny’s partner. Asking Danny to step outside, Nate lets on that he has information indicating that there is fraud going on within their department. Cops, people they know personally, are stealing from their pension fund, and this is a problem for Danny because he is on the board. They agree to meet later after their little conference is barged in upon by one of their overserved comrades. However, when Danny arrives at the agreed location, he finds Nate shot dead in his car. Danny also has the unfortunate luck to have a police cruiser pull up just as he is looking in on his fallen partner. The resulting investigation is conducted by the department’s internal affairs, and the lead investigator, Terence Niebaum (J. T. Walsh), seems intent on pinning the murder on Danny. First there is the fact that Danny is found at the scene moments after the crime. Next, a gun recovered from a nearby pond matches one Danny and Nate had taken in a previous bust. Finally, a warranted search of Danny’s home reveals documents containing offshore accounts with large deposits being made into them. He protests his innocence at every turn, but everyone seems to be turning against him. Desperate, Danny marches into internal affairs headquarters intent on getting Terence to confess the real perpetrators behind what appears to Danny to be a frame job. When he does not immediately get the answers he wants, he seizes Terence, forces many out of the office, and takes a few others captive. We now have a hostage situation with Chicago’s best negotiator turning the tables on his brothers in blue. Because he knows the playbook for these scenarios, he goes about barricading any possible line of sight, or way into the area. At the same time, the police cordon off the building and begin setting up a perimeter. Many of those called to the scene are fellow officers that know Danny and cannot believe what is happening. Others presume his guilt and are gung-ho to take him down as soon as the opportunity presents itself. When communication is established, Danny’s demand is for a different negotiator to be brought in, one that is unknown to their unit. The person he requests is Lieutenant Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). Danny is not sitting idly waiting for Chris to arrive. With the help of a couple of his hostages, a conman named Rudy (Paul Giamatti) and Terence’s secretary Maggie (Siobhan Fallon), Danny finds wire taps on one of the computers. Now he is stalling for time, and Chris is willing to give it and other concessions to him in exchange for prisoners. However, the real guilty parties are among the cops on the scene, and they take it upon themselves to preemptively strike at Danny’s improvised fortress. They make their entrance just as Terence is about to tell Danny the identity of Nate’s informant, killing Terence and destroying the hard drive before being forced to retreat themselves. Given Danny’s claims and the itchy trigger fingers of those around, Chris comes to the conclusion that Danny may, in fact, be innocent. Hence, using some improvised explosives as a distraction, Danny manages to slip out of the building with Chris’ assistance. Their destination is Terence’s house, as Maggie indicated the internal affairs inspector kept back up files with information Danny needs to prove his innocence. She is also unable to keep her mouth shut during the interrogation, and the crooked cops follow Chris and Danny. It is there that the true mastermind behind it all is one of Danny’s close friends on the force, Commander Grant Frost (Ron Rifkin). With two of his cohorts, Grant enters the house. As a bluff, Chris shoots Danny and gets Grant to let Chris in on their swindle. Unbeknownst to Grant, the rest of the force is waiting outside, hearing Grant’s confession over the radio. Grant is taken into custody, and Danny goes off in an ambulance a hero.
The Negotiator may be a straightforward cop movie, but it also poses a serious moral dilemma. It deals with the topic of trust. Trust is a somewhat complicated issue in Catholicism. Trust is something God gives freely, and yet we seem hesitant to follow suit. It is understandable. If you have ever been betrayed, you know how hard it is to learn again to trust. The wounds these moments create sometimes never heal, and our ability to have meaningful relationships can be diminished. Only a supernatural power, i.e. God, can do anything in regards to mending them. In the film, particularly during the opening credits, pains are taken to demonstrate how deep is the friendship between Danny and other members of his unit. They are there to celebrate each other’s milestones and they play sports together, among other things. All this is done in order to play up Danny’s lack of understanding when nobody seems willing to believe that he is innocent of killing Nate. It also wonderfully speaks to how any one of them, except Danny, could be the one behind the conspiracy. Finally, it gives Danny’s decision to barricade himself in internal affairs a feeling of fate. Since we are in the Lenten/Easter season, I will compare this to Jesus’ Passion on the way to his Crucifixion. He was the innocent lamb who offered himself up for slaughter. It may sound absurd, but Danny essentially does the same thing, and did so knowing that he had been abandoned by his friends, like the Apostles did after Jesus’ arrest. In the end, Jesus forgave His friends for their actions, just as Danny does with those who doubted him.
The Negotiator is a solid, if unoriginal, film. It relies on a lot of cop movie clichés, so much so that I had to chuckle at moments at the obviousness of some of them. There is also some off-color language in it, along with the expected violence. Clearly, it is not a film for the whole family, but the adults might be surprised by what they find.