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The Negotiator (Jon Hamm) - Review

The Negotiator

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JON Hamm delivers a powerhouse performance in this intelligent and taut thriller, The Negotiator.

The former Mad Men star may be treading vaguely familiar ground by playing another smart-talking, put-upon hero, but he does it so well that he completely commands every scene he’s in. What’s more, he’s aided by a smart script by Tony Gilroy, who himself is no stranger to spy movie traits having penned the first four Jason Bourne films as well as writing and directing the superior Michael Clayton.

Formerly known as Beirut when it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, The Negotiator picks up in a faction-ridded Beirut, in 1972, as foreign diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm), a smooth talking businessman who is friendly with all sides.

We first meet Mason at a party, where his verbose skills are in full effect. But it quickly becomes apparent that his life is about to change. Hence, when agents enter the party to try and take away the 13-year-old boy, Karim, in his care, for alleged links to a terrorist bomber, all hell breaks loose as allies of the child’s brother also turn up to reclaim him. Needless to say, bullets fly and tragedy follows.

Ten years later, and Mason is now an alcoholic low-level businessman carving out a meek living in Boston. He is called back into action, however, to assist when one of his former friends, Cal (Mark Pellegrino), is kidnapped and held to ransom by terrorists who will only negotiate with him.

What ensues is a series of tense meetings between all of the invested parties, as Mason must wrestle past ghosts and stay one step ahead of possibly duplicitous colleagues within the CIA (whose number extend to his handler, Rosamund Pike, and a cocky National Security Council member, Shea Whigham), while also attempting the safe recovery of his former friend from the clutches of another group with connections to his past.

Gilroy’s film is as talky as its name suggests but provides a terrific platform for great character actors to strut their stuff. Hence, while short on action, the film offers both an intelligent examination of Middle Eastern politics as well as an absorbing insight into notions of guilt, regret and terrorist psychology. It may be set mostly in the ’80s but a lot of the issues it raises hold plenty of resonance today (and may doubtless cause some controversy as a result).

Hamm, meanwhile, provides a ferociously compelling central presence, nimbly negotiating his way around several sweaty situations while juxtaposing a perceived sense of arrogance with a tremendous amount of inner turmoil. This is a tour-de-force from him.

But there’s equally eye-catching support from the likes of Pike, suitably irrepressible as his handler, Whigham and Dean Norris (two more veterans of classic US TV shows), and Idir Chender, as one of the primary terrorists Mason is parlaying with.

Director Brad Anderson also does well with Gilroy’s script, subtly increasing the sweaty tension to finally deliver a tense stand-off that brings things to a satisfyingly bittersweet close.

And while elements of this may feel a little too Hollywood given its proximity to recent history and current headlines, there’s no denying the effectiveness of this reliably old-school movie. It’s the type of thriller that mainstream Hollywood now shies away from… one that places words above action and realism above the fantastical.

Fans of Gilroy’s very best work, as well as tightly knit thrillers from the likes of John le Carr√©, Vince (Syriana) Gilligan and (to a certain extent) Graham Greene, are in for a treat.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 50mins
UK Release Date: August 10, 2018