The Negotiator

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The Negotiator
Theatrical release poster
Directed byF. Gary Gray
Produced by
Written by
Music byGraeme Revell
CinematographyRussell Carpenter
Edited byChristian Wagner
Distributed byWarner Bros.
20th Television
Release date
  • July 29, 1998 (1998-07-29)
Running time
140 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$50 million
Box office$49.1 million[1]

The Negotiator is a 1998 American action thriller film directed by F. Gary Gray. It stars Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey as two hostage negotiators and Chicago police lieutenants.


Lieutenant Danny Roman, a top hostage negotiator for the Chicago Police Department and a former soldier in the US Army, is told by his partner, Nate Roenick, that according to an informant whom he refuses to name, members of their own unit are embezzling large amounts of money from the department's disability fund, for which Danny is a board member. Nate tells Danny that his informant has not told Internal Affairs because he thinks they might be involved as well. When Danny goes for another meeting, he finds Nate dead seconds before other police arrive, pinning Danny as the prime suspect.

Matters become worse for Danny when IAD investigator Terence Niebaum, whom Nate's informant suspected of involvement in the embezzlement, is assigned to investigate the murder. After the gun that killed Nate is linked to a case Danny had worked on, Niebaum and other investigators search the Roman house and discover papers for an offshore bank account with a deposit equal to one of the amounts of money embezzled. Danny is forced to surrender his gun and badge, and his colleagues are skeptical of his protests of innocence. With embezzlement and homicide charges pending, Danny storms into Niebaum's office and demands answers about who set him up. When Niebaum refuses to answer, Danny takes Niebaum, his administrative assistant Maggie, police commander and Danny's friend Grant Frost and weak-willed con man Rudy Timmons as hostages.

With the building evacuated and placed under siege by his own CPD unit and the FBI, Danny issues his conditions: locating Nate's informant and killer and summoning lieutenant Chris Sabian, the city's other top negotiator. Danny believes he can trust Chris, because he talks for as long as possible, sees tactical action as a last resort, and being from another precinct eliminates him as a suspect in the disability fund scheme. Chris clashes with the CPD, particularly commander Adam Beck, but is given temporary command of the unit after they hastily attempt a breach that goes awry, resulting in SWAT officers Scott and Markus becoming Danny's hostages, believing he has killed Scott.

Danny trades Frost to Chris in exchange for restoring the building's electricity, having been turned off after the hostage execution. With help from Rudy and Maggie, Danny accesses Niebaum's computer and pieces together the scheme; corrupt officers submitted false disability claims that were processed by an unknown insider on the disability fund's board. He also discovers recordings of wiretaps, including a conversation that suggests Nate was meeting his informant before he was killed. Chris, using the information Danny provided, claims to have located Nate's informant in a bid to get Danny to release the hostages. Danny realizes Chris is bluffing when Niebaum's files reveal Nate himself was the IAD informant.

When Danny threatens to expose Niebaum in an open window, leaving him vulnerable to sniper fire, Niebaum admits that Roenick gave him wiretaps, implicating three of Danny's squad mates (Hellman, Allen and Argento) in the embezzlement scheme. When Niebaum confronted the guilty officers, he received a bribe from them to cover up their crimes. They offered Nate the same money, but he refused to take it, resulting in his death. Niebaum says he doesn't know who the ringleader is, but that he has the taps corroborating the three officers' guilt. The same corrupt officers have secretly entered the room via the air vents under the pretext of being part of a team to take Danny out in case he started killing hostages; upon hearing Niebaum's confession, they open fire and kill Niebaum before he can reveal where he has hidden the wiretaps. Danny single-handedly fends them and the rest of his squad off, using the flashbangs he seized from the two officers in the previous failed breach.

Believing that Chris and the police can't resolve the situation, the FBI assume jurisdiction over the operation, cease negotiations, relieve Chris of his command, and order a full breach. As Danny prepares for his eventual arrest, Maggie tells him that Niebaum also worked at his house and could have kept Nate's wiretaps there. Chris confronts Danny to warn him about the breach, and Danny reveals that the corrupt officers murdered Niebaum and that Scott is still alive and gagged with duct tape. Chris begins to believe in Danny's innocence and gives him a chance to prove his case: while the FBI and SWAT raid the building and rescue the hostages, Danny disguises himself as a SWAT member and escapes through the vents.

Danny and Chris proceed to Niebaum's house, but they can't find the wiretaps. The police arrive and the corrupt officers enter the house, but they back off as Frost enters and tries to talk Danny down. Chris observes Frost discreetly taking one of the loaded guns, and realizes that Frost is the ringleader of the conspiracy, the insider on the disability fund's board and Nate's killer. In front of Frost, Chris seemingly kills Danny and offers to destroy the evidence they have uncovered in return for a cut of Frost's take. Frost agrees and effectively makes a full admission to his and the other three officers' crimes. When Frost exits the house, he discovers that Chris only wounded Danny, who used a police radio microphone to broadcast his confession to the police surrounding the area. Humiliated and surrounded, Frost attempts to commit suicide, only to be shot in the shoulder by Beck and arrested by the police. As Danny is loaded into an ambulance, Chris gives his badge to him and departs.


Production notes[edit]

The film is dedicated to J. T. Walsh, who died several months before the film's release.

The building used for the IAD office is 77 West Wacker Drive, the headquarters of United Airlines.

Factual basis[edit]

This film's conspiracy plotline is loosely based on the pension fund scandal in the St. Louis Police Department in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[2]


Critical response[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregation website, reports that 75% of the critics have gave The Negotiator positive reviews based on 56 reviews and an average rating of 6.83/10. The critical consensus states: "The Negotiator's battle of wits doesn't wholly justify its excessive length, but confident direction by F. Gary Gray and formidable performances makes this a situation audiences won't mind being hostage to." [3] On Metacritic, the film scored a 62 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". [4] Emanuel Levy of Variety wrote: "Teaming for the first time Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson, arguably the two best actors of their generation, in perfectly fitting roles is a shrewd move and the best element of this fact-inspired but overwrought thriller."

Roger Ebert, in his Chicago Sun-Times review, calls The Negotiator "a triumph of style over story, and of acting over characters...Much of the movie simply consists of closeups of the two of them talking, but it's not simply dialogue because the actors make it more—invest it with conviction and urgency..."[5]

Mick LaSalle, in his less-than-enthusiastic review for the San Francisco Chronicle, had the most praise for Spacey's performance: "Kevin Spacey is the main reason to see The Negotiator...Spacey's special gift is his ability to make sanity look radiant...In The Negotiator, as in L.A. Confidential, he gives us a man uniquely able to accept, face and deal with the truth."[6]


Award Category Subject Result
Saturn Award Best Action or Adventure Film David Hoberman & Arnon Milchan Nominated
American Black Film Festival Black Film Award for Best Film Won
Black Film Award for Best Director F. Gary Gray Won
Black Film Award for Best Actor Samuel L. Jackson Nominated
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Favorite Actor - Action/Adventure Nominated
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Nominated


  1. ^ "The Negotiator (1998)". The Numbers. Retrieved July 3, 2016.
  2. ^ Police Official Seized As Hostage in Missouri. New York Times (1988-09-04). Retrieved on 2013-11-17.
  3. ^ The Negotiator at Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ The Negotiator at Metacritic
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 29, 1998). "THE NEGOTIATOR". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  6. ^ LaSalle, Mick (July 29, 1998). "Spacey, Jackson Negotiate A Fun Action-Drama Flick". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 7 October 2015.

External links[edit]