Shake Hands with the Devil
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin
Spacey, David Morse, Ron
Rifkin, John Spencer, & J.T.
Runtime: 138 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: F. Gary Gray
Executive Producer: David Nicksay, Robert Stone &
Producer: David Hoberman & Arnon Milchan
Writer: James DeMonaco & Kevin Fox
Address Comments To:Robert A. Daley & Terry Semel, Chairmen
Warner Bros., Inc.
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522-0001
Samuel L. Jackson plays hostage negotiator Danny Roman, the best negotiator in the Chicago Police Department. Roman gets in trouble, though, when he is framed for embezzling police pension funds and murdering his partner who was secretly investigating the pension fraud. In desperation, Roman takes the head of Internal Affairs and his female assistant hostage, along with an informant and his precinct boss, who happens to walk in on the scene.
Roman suspects that the head of IA, played by the late J.T. Walsh, has something to hide. Declaring his innocence, Roman says he will only talk to hostage negotiator Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). He picks Sabian because Sabian works in another precinct and has a reputation for never using force in a hostage situation.
Arriving on the scene in the nick of time, Sabian squares off in an entertaining battle of wits against Roman. Sabian says he doesn't care whether Roman is innocent or guilty, he only cares about the lives of the hostages, but, when some of the real culprits in the pension fraud begin to interfere with the hostage situation, causing violence, Sabian helps Roman find out the truth.
For a summer police thriller, THE NEGOTIATOR has a unique, interesting plot with well-written dialogue. Its story has some nice twists with explicit references to two classic American westerns, RIO BRAVO and SHANE. Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey have plenty of opportunities to show why they are two of the top American actors working today. The movie is at its best when their characters are on screen together or are talking to one another over the police hostage phone lines. Their performances are enhanced by a fine supporting cast, especially Paul Giamatti as a wise-cracking police informant.
This movie has a mixed worldview, however, that hurts its moral credibility. Although the two main heroes, Roman and Sabian, act morally much of the time, they each take at least two morally questionable actions. For instance, Roman takes hostages to prove his innocence and threatens people so that his fellow officers will really think he has gone over the edge and is capable of anything. Such an action sends the pagan message that "the ends justifies the means," as do a couple borderline actions Sabian takes. THE NEGOTIATOR also includes an excessive amount of foul language, even for an R-rated movie. Both these problems stain an otherwise uplifting, intelligent thriller.
THE NEGOTIATOR is a tense, well-written and well-acted police thriller that breaks new ground in terms of its engaging portrayal of human drama and conflict. Regrettably, it also breaks some new ground in its use of foul language and moral relativism. Although the two main heroes played by Jackson and Spacey act morally much of the time, they each take at least two morally questionable actions. For instance, Roman takes hostages to prove his innocence and threatens people so that his fellow officers will really think he has gone over the edge. Such an action sends the pagan message that "the ends justifies the means." THE NEGOTIATOR also includes an excessive amount of foul language, even for an R-rated movie. Both these problems stain an otherwise uplifting, intelligent thriller.