It is always a credit to a movie when it manages to stand the test of time, and after eleven years The Negotiator is still an intense thriller worth watching. It doesn't matter that I've seen it before or that Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson have gone on to bigger and better things since then; it is still an entertaining and taut action film. Now after all these years it is finally put on Blu-ray, and the question is: Did this film need a new version in high definition. Oh yes, it did!
Lieutenant Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) is the best hostage negotiator in his unit, and his actions always get results. Sometimes he agrees to be taken as a hostage himself so he can talk down the culprit face to face. His friend and fellow policeman Nate (Paul Guilfoyle) tells him that there's a bad cop in their midst embezzling money, and he needs Roman's help. Everything falls apart for Roman when Nate ends up dead and he's framed for the murder. Convinced he has to find the dirty cops and clear his name, Roman turns into the enemy and takes hostages in the Internal Affairs division.
As a brilliant strategist who knows what to do in hostage situations, Roman makes his list of demands, and that includes the presence of fellow negotiator Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). Roman trusts Sabian because he is not a part of their unit and cannot be one of the dirty cops. Roman knows all the police tricks, so it is up to Sabian to figure out who is good and evil and pick his side before things get bad for everyone. The acting in The Negotiator is brilliant, and it is rather intellectual for a blockbuster film. Spacey and Jackson play off one another with lightning fast dialogue, and while it could have been a mediocre film, the actors really bring it to a higher level. The movie is fast-paced, entertaining, and tense.
Putting this movie on Blu-ray was a stroke of genius. The video quality is presented in 1080p in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and the audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1. This is the kind of film that really needs a visual update since it was made a decade ago, and everything looks and sounds better than before. The tense atmosphere of The Negotiator has a lot of blacks and dark shades, like any good noir film, and on Blu-ray the clearer detail of the actors clothing, their expression, the office setting, etc., makes it appear sharper and more modern. Everything about the Blu-ray is quality, from the audio to the video to the very feeling of the film. The sound offers four languages (English, French, Spanish and Italian), plus various sub-titles options. The dialogue is clear, although there were a few times when the intense movement to action sequences made the speakers and volume boom. Then I would put my sound down, only to put it back up when it was back to dialogue. This was not as annoying as it sounds, but there did seem to be a contrast between the normal speaking tones and that of the special effects. The dialogue was never mumbled and each word was clearly heard, which is particularly important in a talk-heavy movie like this.
Extras include two featurettes, one with a real life negotiator talking about his experience in the field and another with a behind-the-scenes look at The Negotiator and its setting. This was a bit of a letdown; it would have been wonderful to have a full audio commentary.
Fans of the movie will be delighted in this crisp and clear new version, and anyone who missed it the first time around might want to try the film out now. It may not have the hardcore special effects or action sequences that modern films do, not when it was made eleven years ago, but it replaces that with mystery and intrigue. Not a bad trade-off, honestly. The Negotiator is out on Blu-ray now and rated R for violence and language.