"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 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 dollars 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 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.
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 Kevin Spacey's character 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:
Sabian: I once talked a guy out of blowing up the Sears Tower but I can't talk my wife out of the bedroom or my kid off the phone.
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.
Face-Heel Turn: Subverted when Chris Sabian pretends to kill Danny Roman for a cut in the villains' profits.
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.
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.
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.
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.