The Negotiator is ludicrously over the top, with a hostage situation that appears to consume the resources of the entire Chicago police force and a flair for the wildly dramatic, but it's also an absolute pleasure to watch and re-watch, one of those finely-tooled, bombastic Hollywood thrillers filled with carefully engineered moments of narrative payoff, and a script for both leads and support to chew on.
It's assembled from many of the clichés of the cop film - from the central story of corruption to the imagery of mourning officers in dress uniform, and the shots fired at graveside, to the throwaway supporting roles for women - but director F. Gary Grey invests them with an almost ferocious conviction, as if, this time, those clichés really matter. He's also blessed with a terrific cast, with a nice opposition between his leads, the headstrong Samuel L. Jackson and apparently perfectly controlled Kevin Spacey; their distinctive acting styles are a nice complement to the characters, and Spacey in particular seems to relish the words he's given to work with. As so often in Hollywood, the supporting case is a real treasure chest: J.T. Walsh is as effectively oily in his final role as he was in so many other films, but there are also nice turns from Paul Giamatti (on the way up), David Morse, Ron Rifkin and other familiar faces.