The year was 1998 and theater patrons were hungry for a good action flick. Well that could pertain to any year really, but with hot actors Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey tearing up the screens in various other roles, the pairing of the two was something that was bound to happen. With excellent critical reviews and a grab-your-attention trailer, The Negotiator was quick to entice critics and filmgoers, although once you dig into the film a bit, many found it to be a great deal more shallow than they’d originally hoped.
Maverick hostage negotiator Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) is framed for embezzlement and murder. Newly married and unjustly faced with prison, Roman turns hostage-taker to smoke out the guilty ones. Squaring off against him is respected, methodical negotiator Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). Under siege and racing the clock, the two lock in a deadly battle of wits. In a story honed with spiralling tension and volatile action and a dazzling series of twists and gambits, Roman and Sabian face off against time and each other.
As a way to prep for older films I haven’t seen, I often heads towards the theatrical trailer for them to get an idea of not only what it’s about but also what kind of film it was treated as at the time of its release. Trailer advertising hasn’t always been the most truthful, but you can still learn a lot about a movie from one and as such it’s a decent way to wet ones appetite. And the trailer for The Negotiator did just that. As soon as I finished the trailer I skipped back to the main menu and played the film itself and…well, I got exactly what the trailer promised.
The problem was the trailer quite literally promised the entire film. It gave away nearly every plot detail and twist and turn and an hour into the film I already knew what was going on because I’d already been told it by a two minute burst of information. Keep in mind this film is over two hours long and to know what’s going to happen for that long of a time is kind of a downer. Now don’t get me wrong, the film is still entertaining and it’s so simple in structure that I probably would’ve discovered the ending at some point while watching it, but there was still that element of the unknown: am I just a jaded viewer who has seen so many of these films that I can call it or will I be thrown a wild card? Sadly I couldn’t play that card until the last portion of the film as I’d already known what was going to happen from the trailer.
So long story short is I’m no longer going to watch the trailer before I watch older movies from now on. Sometimes their advertising is just stupid. But in any case The Negotiator still held plenty of exciting little bits to see for the first time, although I take issue with the quote used on the back of the package (“The most intelligent thriller since Die Hard!” Uh…what was intelligent about that movie? Stuff just blew up and Bruce Willis kicked ass the entire time…) which was an incredibly strange thing to say about this film. I mean it does share elements of a simple-minded thriller, but it does strive to be a bit more than that at times.
At least I think it did. See, like a lot of late 90s movies The Negotiator all used an easy to decipher formula that didn’t leave much to the imagination. It’s a film built around a singular gimmick (“What if a hostage negotiator took hostages”) which is executed brilliantly for the time it lasts…but like The Taking of Pelham 123, the sheen wears off once the story stretches on and the characters and plot become more and more ridiculous. Maybe in ’98 this film didn’t seem so cheesy at times, but there are some serious leaps in logic that this film presents that I had to chortle at. Yes, I chortled.
But, still, this is an entertaining film. Its popcorn entertainment and seeing Samuel L. Jackson’s eyes bug out of his head as he hells to get attention never gets old and he and Spacey really have a great little rapport going on. It’s not a pairing you think of happening often, but the overall chemistry of a buddy-buddy cop type situation was there. As such the film is at the very least Recommended if you’ve never seen it. It’s not something you see airing on TV too often so unless you’ve seen the trailer you might be in for a gem of the late 90s that not many talk about anymore.
Warner Home Video releases The Negotiator on Blu-ray with…well, not much really. The set itself arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case without any kind of frills aside from the usual insert for firmware upgrades. Disc art mimics the cover and the film, as with most Warner titles, auto-loads so you can access the menu via pop-up if you so desire.
Video is a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer and for its age it looks quite remarkable. There are some sequences that look soft and dated but I was really blown away by how sharp and detail laden close-up shots of characters faces were. There were a few moments where you saw little more than Jackson’s eye and a bit of his face lit by some light source and the detail just popped off the screen. It’s not a flawless transfer as it appears to just be the source material presented here without any real clean-up, but overall it’s very impressive for what it is.
Audio is a TrueHD 5.1 mix that is rather timid, but still decent all the same. There’s plenty of LFE output here with helicopters, guns, and all the usual action movie staples, but the sound effects have an annoying habit of landing on top of dialogue rather than underneath it, making for some hard-to-hear segments. Overall it’s a solid mix with dialogue front and center but, like the video transfer, it has some flaws that will stand out if you watch it loudly or on a big enough TV.
Extras? Feh. Who needs em’! That seems to be the idea here, anyway, as there’s only two and they’re ported over from the DVD:
The 11th Hour (6:51, SD) – stories from real negotiators
On Location (16:28, SD) – making-of featurette
Some interesting comments from both pieces, but not a whole lot to sink your teeth into as far as production on the movie is concerned. Oh and of course there’s that stupid Theatrical Trailer (2:33).
Overall a Rental only. Chances are you can pick up the original DVD (snapper only case though, as I recall) for around $5, but if you want the Blu-ray treatment it’ll cost you a tiny bit more. It may be worth it depending on how much you enjoy the film, however, as the TrueHD mix isn’t too bad and the VC-1 transfer can be quite impressive at times.
The Negotiator is now available on Blu-ray.