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The Negotiator

(1998) ** 1/2 R
138 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Directors: F Gary Gray, Philip C. Pfeiffer, Joel Kramer. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, David Morse, Ron Rifkin, John Spencer.

/content/films/3650/1.jpg"You want my blood?! Take my blood!" Anyone around in 1998, when The Negotiator was being flogged endlessly in trailers and TV spots, must remember this line, shouted by Samuel L. Jackson through the blown-out window of a high-rise. It's not only pop songs that become "earworms" that won't go away. And The Negotiator hasn't gone away, either. Now a home-video perennial thanks to its high-profile pairing of in-their-prime Jackson and Kevin Spacey—in an easily digestible high-concept plot (a negotiator must negotiate with a negotiator!)—F. Gary Gray's action thriller was a hostage-crisis knockoff that, in turn, inspired more knockoffs. This highly incredible story lives and dies on its leading performances, so it's a damn good thing someone hired Jackson and Spacey to go toe to toe.

Jackson plays Chicago hostage negotiator Danny Roman, the kind of movie top cop who heroically proves himself in the opening sequence only to be dressed down as a selfish, reckless jerk by an unsympathetic superior. When Roman's partner (Paul Guilfoyle) is murdered (something to do with a conspiracy involving $2 million embezzled, by cops, from their own disability fund), the evidence inexplicably points to an innocent Roman. Framed and running out of options, he commandeers the office of Internal Affairs Inspector Niebaum (the sterling J.T. Walsh, in his final role) and takes an armload of wacky hostages (including stalwart supporting actors Paul Giamatti and Siobhan Fallon). Roman's plan is to flush out the murderous traitor from within police ranks. Unable to trust anyone from his department, Roman demands that respected negotiator Chris Sabian (Spacey) be brought in to talk through the situation in a sort of master class clash over the key principle of hostage negotiation: controlling your environment.

As scripted by James DeMonaco & Kevin Fox, The Negotiator is full of plot holes and highly unlikely situations that smack of bizarre judgment or dumb luck. The film is awfully predictable (until a climactic twist that defies logic) and suffers from a seriously bloated run time of 138 minutes. Still, thanks to the theatrical fire of Jackson and the silky, dry-witted authority of Spacey, The Negotiator hums along pretty nicely. The actors nail the humorous moments and work hard to make the incredible credible, while Gray ably handles the suspense sequences. The terrific supporting cast—including David Morse, Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, Paul Guilfoyle and Regina Taylor—cannot be valued too highly for their parts in holding the enterprise together. With its verbal pyrotechnics and real ones, The Negotiator may not be the healthiest part of your cinematic diet, but it is an undeniably entertaining potboiler.

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Aspect ratios: 2.4:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 11/7/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

A clean source and a top-notch transfer help to make The Negotiator achieve resolution on Blu-ray. There's a noticeable upgrade from DVD here, with a tighter picture revealing more detail and texture than the picture has ever shown on home video. Colors are accurate, and the film-like image is free of any pesky digital artifacting. The sturdy Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix perhaps shows the source material's age a bit more in its lack of aggression, but one assumes that this ho-hum soundscape is likewise a faithful rendering of the source material; again, the lossless track is an upgrade from what's previously been offered, and it's likely the definitive aural presentation.

Most of the DVD bonuses have been preserved on Blu-ray, though that's not saying much. The doc "The Eleventh Hour: Stories from Real-Life Negotiators" (6:51, SD) has been heavily edited, lopped down to a single interview with LAPD SWAT Negotiator Officer Todd Rheingold (what happened to "stories from...negotiators"?).

"On Location: Why Chicago" (16:28, SD) intriguingly focuses on the choice of the Windy City and specific locations used in the film. Participants include director F. Gary Gray, producer David Hoberman, production designer Holger Gross, and executive producer David Nicksay.

Last up is the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:33, SD). Spoilers abound, so don't watch before the feature.

It seems nutty to issue The Negotiator on home video with no presence in the bonus features from either of the film's leading men, but fans of the film will welcome the A/V upgrade.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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