The Negotiator review: Jon Hamm has been turning in some great projects of late – in between Baby Driver, Tag and Legion – but his latest is perhaps a film better left on paper than the screen.

The Negotiator review by Awais Irfan.

The Negotiator review
The Negotiator review

Mason Skiles (Hamm) is a fast-talker, able to chat his way out of most anything; the film opens in Beirut, 1972 where Skiles’ wife is killed in action. 10 years later and Mason has been led to a washed-up life of alcoholism and negotiating, booted out of the government after the events in 72; when a former friend of his that he left behind in Beirut, Cal (Mark Pellegrino), is kidnapped in Lebanon, Skiles is called back into the field to forge a deal and negotiate the lives of the hostages. But, when his past comes creeping back in more ways than one, Skiles must race against the clock and all odds to make sure the teetering deal doesn’t go horribly awry.

Related: Tag review

If The Negotiator – formerly titled Beirut (what’s up with all these name changes at Ed film fest, right?) – sounds familiar, that’s because it is. You’ve seen this film a million times before. As a result, there are no stakes or tension and anything really keeping this compelling beyond Hamm and Rosamund Pike. The difference between this and, say, Anna and the Apocalypse which also suffered from a sense of deja-vu is that Anna had enough personality and charm to keep it engaging whilst The Negotiator feels sorely lacking in that regard. The screenplay is sharp though and Gilroy’s writing brings a lot of interesting ideas to the table, but the execution on-screen just feels too expository and boring to really do the material any real justice – a film perhaps better serviced on paper than on the big screen itself. The characters are all so contrived – 80s caricatures that are so full of “patriotism” and the like. It’s a shtick we’ve seen done to death and The Negotiator does nothing to stand out from the crowd or bring anything new to the table.

The Negotiator review
The Negotiator review

Hamm is good in the lead role; the actor just has a charisma and personality which makes any performance of his enjoyable to watch. But it’s also just Jon Hamm being Jon Hamm; the writing gives him nothing good to chew and you’d be better off watching Mad Men or Baby Driver again if you’re after your Hamm-fix. Pike is good too but, similarly, her character is weak and she doesn’t do much other than assist Skiles in a very wasted role. The thing is, The Negotiator isn’t that bad. It’s thin and disposable but, ultimately, it’s a script that was written in 1991 so it’s fittingly old-school; the problem is, it’s just boring. We have seen this same film so many times. It’s predictable and cliched and, as a result, it’s just a bit dull to watch; it offers nothing new but if you’re wanting a 90s-hostage-thriller, you’ll be satisfied. If you’re wanting to see a meaty-talky-thriller inspired by the likes of John le Carre in a similar vein to a Sorkin script that is compelling to watch and exciting and cool and everything this film could have been, The Negotiator is not going to be that – and so, feels like a misfire than anything else, playing safe ball than hard ball. It’s just lazy and not all that special.

The Negotiator review by Awais Irfan, July 2018.

The Negotiator was reviewed at the 2018 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The Negotiator