Film / The Negotiator

He frees hostages for a living. Now he's taking hostages to survive.

"When your friends betray you, sometimes the only people you can trust are strangers."
— Lt. Danny Roman

The Negotiator is a 1998 film starring Samuel L. Jackson as Danny Roman, a Chicago Police Department hostage negotiator framed for the murder of his partner, Nate. Nate was murdered when he uncovered serious corruption within their unit. Not knowing who he can trust, Danny turns to taking hostages to find the truth about Nate's murder. Unable to trust his friends, he calls upon a stranger, and fellow negotiator, Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), to prove his innocence.

The film was directed by Felix Gary Gray, previously known for Friday (1995) and Set It Off (1996). It was not a box office hit, earning about $44,547,681 in the United States market. It was only the 47th most successful film of its year. However, it gained mostly positive reviews and earned both Gray and Jackson a number of awards.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Beck, the squad leader, who makes no secret of his dislike for Danny even before the set-up, can't help but chuckle silently during the "never say no" scene; a sentiment shared by one of the FBI agents.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: The SWAT team uses small vents for running fiber-optic cameras and larger vents for team members. When the title character barricades himself into an office, one of the precautions he takes is to close off the vents as best he can with available materials. Danny also uses it during his escape from the building.
  • Batman Cold Open
  • Batman Gambit: Done multiple times by Roman, and how they eventually uncover the mastermind setting him up.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Sabian gets the murderer to confess by blackmailing him with the nonexistent evidence.
  • Butt Monkey: Farley basically exists for no other reason than to get utterly humiliated by Danny. The first time his name is mentioned, long before he appears on-screen in any meaningful capacity, is when Danny complains that "Farley screwed up the list!" (Said list being a likes / dislikes inventory for the current hostage-taker - Farley put the man's dog on the "Likes" side, but the guy hates his dog for barking all the time.)
  • Clear My Name: Danny takes the hostages to clear himself of murdering his partner.
  • Closed Door Rapport: The movie milks this for all it's worth—both Danny Roman and Chris Sabian are introduced doing this. Roman is talking with a gunman. Sabian is talking with his wife.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: We are first introduced to Chris Sabian as he is failing to persuade his wife to come out of the bedroom in which she has locked herself. Summed up succinctly with this line:
    Chris Sabian: You know, I once talked a man out of blowing up the Sears Tower, but I can't talk my wife out of the bedroom or my kid off the phone.
    Lisa Sabian: That's because nobody's standing behind you with a big gun!
    Chris Sabian: That's debatable.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Well, verbal battle at least, between Danny and Farley. It's not even a fair fight, since Farley is a last minute substitute since their best negotiator is the one taking hostages. Danny reacts with disbelief when Farley calls him up on the phone and he starts on the standard negotiation lines, decides to give Farley a chance to talk him down, and what follows is an emasculating verbal dissection.
    Danny: Never say no to a hostage taker. It's in the manual. Eliminate no from your vocabulary, Farley. Never use no, don't, won't, or can't. It eliminates options and leave no choice but to shoot someone. Now lets practice, if you say no again, I'll kill somebody. ... Now, I'd like a sub machine gun so I can blow everyone in here away.
    Farley: [stammering] I'll look into that.
    Danny: Good! You're doing good Farley! You ever cheat on your wife, Farley? Don't say no!
    Farley: [stammering worse now] I'll have to look into that Danny.
    Danny: You ever... dress up like a schoolgirl and get your ass spanked? [Farley tries and fails to come up with a way to say no without using the word] Jesus... I got nothing against you dressing up like a little girl, but I did not know that about you, Farley.
  • Covert Distress Code: At the beginning, Danny flashes hand signals (1, 2, and 3 fingers) to alert the sniper team when to fire. The "1" signal is worked into his conversation with the hostage taker as a "wait a minute" gesture, while the others are displayed with his back turned to the suspect.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Danny makes the perfect hostage taker, as he knows every tactic the police will use and brazenly runs circles around the Chicago PD.
  • Destruction Equals Off Switch: Used twice in the movie. The IAB workstation is shot by one of the squads to destroy the evidence, and by a Dirty Cop later for the same reason. Even though Computer Equals Monitor is averted as the shots target the CPU, the information would still be there as long as the hard disk is intact. Of course, if Danny can't access the information, he can't use it to prove his innocence, so it's still a win for the bad guys.
  • Engineered Public Confession: How Danny finally gets the man responsible.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Subverted when Chris Sabian pretends to kill Danny Roman for a cut in the villains' profits.
  • False Flag Operation: Inverted and then subverted. Sabian gets a friend to pretend to be the mole to convince Danny to release the hostages and give himself up (and possibly reveal if there are conspirators in the police department). His plan is successful at first, as Sabian has gathered enough information from Danny to know some of the mole's characteristics. But ultimately his plan is foiled when Danny discovers from Niebaum's files who the real mole is.
  • Hero Antagonist: Primarily Sabian who is the Deuteragonist of the film, but really the entire team trying to take Roman down qualify because they really do believe that he's a Dirty Cop who murdered his own partner. Well... aside from the ones who framed him for it, of course.
  • Hero Insurance: Roman takes several innnocent people hostage during the incident as he fights to clear his name. The movie does not imply that he will ever face consequences for doing so. Even if you have been framed for murder, taking innocent people hostage is still a crime.
  • If I Do Not Return: When things are going badly and Danny Roman believes that he will soon be killed by the corrupt cops, he asks Maggie for a favor.
    Will you tell my wife something for me? Tell her I was trying to keep my promise.
  • Insistent Terminology: Maggie is Niebaum's assistant, not secretary. Backfires on her when Danny realizes she might have more information than he initially suspects.
  • Is That a Threat?:
    Sabian: I'm the only thing standing between you and an army that's itching to walk in here and take you out. So you tell me something, Danny. Why should I get in their way? Make me believe why I should deal with you ever again.
    Roman: I still have hostages. They can still be punished for your mistakes.
    Sabian: Was that a threat? Did you just threaten me?
  • Jerkass: Beck was a dick even before Danny was setup. This, plus his gung ho attitude when the hostage crisis erupts, suggests he's involved in the conspiracy. He's not.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Between the FBI and Chicago PD, as the building is a federal one and the FBI allow them jurisdiction until their screw ups compel them to take over the situation.
  • Living Lie Detector: Danny gives an IAB officer he's trying to interrogate a crash course in how "real cops" pick apart liars. He's rather disconcerted, however, when he flat out asks the Internal Affairs guy who really did it, and the guy says "You did, Danny" and Danny can tell the guy honestly believes it.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: When the crooked cops shoot Niebaum they engage in a drawn out firefight with Danny to make it look like the guy just got caught in the crossfire. Danny points out to Sabian that he has "three shots to center mass" making it obviously not an accident.
  • Mood Whiplash: The don't say no phone scene.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Played with in-universe. Danny wants everyone to think he's shot one of the officers who attempted the first raid, thus demonstrating that he is to be taken seriously. But eventually reveals it was staged.
  • No Indoor Voice: It is a movie with Sam Jackson, so we get some more screaming gems such as:
  • Prove I Am Not Bluffing: Danny invokes this trope when he fakes shooting one of the hostages.
  • Red Herring: Squad leader Beck seems like an easy pick for the person who is setting up Danny; he is a hardass, no-bull character who wants to immediately take out Roman with a tactical squad, and is played by David Morse, who has made a living playing villainous roles. But he's not. He's only trying to take down Roman because he believes he's the culprit, and he not only arrests the true villain, but also keeps him from committing suicide to escape his fate.
  • The Reveal: Frost, who was a largely background character, is the mastermind behind of the theft of the retirement fund and Danny being framed.
    • Danny never killed the cop.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Danny.
  • Shoot the Hostage:
    • Danny shooting one of the officers he was holding hostage. Subverted - he faked it in order to get the police to take him seriously.
    • The conspirators silence Niebaum.
    • Frost takes himself hostage by putting a gun to his own head in hopes of getting the SWAT team to back down. Beck foils his plan by shooting him in the shoulder.
  • Stockholm Syndrome/Lima Syndrome - Justified; the hostages come over to his side once they realize he's being set up, and he's apologetic about having to put them through it all to clear his name.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers show that Sabian eventually sides with Danny. By using a line that isn't even in the final cut of the film!
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance