Wrong Side of the Law

By Ansen, David | Newsweek, August 3, 1998 | Go to article overview

Wrong Side of the Law


Ansen, David, Newsweek


'The Negotiator' is a hostage drama with a twist

High inside a federal building in Chicago, Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) is holding four hostages at gunpoint--two of them cops. He has a list of demands. One of them is that the police get Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey) to act as the negotiator--the only man he's willing to deal with.

That may sound like a strange request, but Roman knows what he's after. He, like Sabian, is a skilled negotiator, a highly respected police lieutenant who regularly risks his neck talking maniacs out of taking lives. What's he doing on the other side of the law? In The Negotiator, Roman has been framed for the murder of his partner. Just before he died, the partner told Roman that someone within the Chicago police force stole $2 million from the pension fund. Whoever is behind the crime has planted evidence pointing the finger at Roman. Cornered, he takes desperate measures to clear his name and find the culprit, knowing that the real crooks within the department now have a perfect excuse to kill him.

At first "The Negotiator" shows every sign of being just another slick, overwrought hot-weather action movie with a bombastic score. But I can pinpoint the exact moment when F. Gary Gray's movie won me over. Roman is on the phone with the first, inexperienced negotiator. Knowing far more about the job than this novice, Roman proceeds to lecture him on how badly he is handling the situation, hilariously reducing his hapless foe to jelly. It's amazing how a sense of humor can turn a formula film into a frolic. It also helps that one of Roman's hostages--played by the very funny Paul Giamatti--is a nervous wreck of a con man whose criminal expertise will eventually come in handy in helping our hero get to the bottom of the plot against him. …

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