The Negotiator

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(1998) ★★★★

Film4: Sunday 19 July, 10.50pm

When hostage negotiator Samuel L. Jackson is framed for the murder of his Chicago cop partner he switches to Plan B – and takes some hostages of his own in the city’s administration building. Enter hostage negotiator Kevin Spacey for a tense battle of wits, watched suspiciously by the FBI (it’s a federal building). The local cops, led by gung ho Swat commander David Morse, seem overly keen to barge in with guns blazing. Muscular action thriller skilfully staged by Set It Off director F. Gary Gray from a script adept at upping the ante in an already tense situation. It may be an artificially contrived dilemma (that’s OK, this is fiction, after all) but the superior performances and punchy set-pieces make for grimly compelling viewing. There’s quite an emotional kick to the proceedings, too, and the good guys and bad guys are not always so easy to spot as you might imagine. Even so, shudder at that creepy psychologist: “He may actually think he’s innocent.” Jackson and Spacey inhabit their roles with customary wit and grace, and in an exemplary supporting cast J.T. Walsh and Paul Giamatti stand out as a shifty Internal Affairs officer and a weasly informer respectively. The film is, in fact, dedicated to Walsh, who died too soon in 1998. Incidentally, Spacey switched parts. He was originally cast in the Jackson role opposite Sylvester Stallone, who turned down the movie. Not so fly, Sly.

Certificate: 15
Duration: 131min