The Siege


They say life imitates art, or is it art imitates life? Either way, sometimes the cinematic and literary arts have an eerie way of foreshadowing (or according to some, encouraging) events. One movie having ominous tones to the recent Sept. 11 tragedy is The Siege. The plot of the movie envisions what might happen when a major U.S. city (New York) is the target of a terrorist attack. (Can we say 'uncanny premonition' boys and girls?)

When the U.S. military takes a fundamental Islamic terrorist leader captive, his terrorist cells activate and demand his release. To show that they mean business, they blow up a city transit bus, a theater, and hold a school hostage among other things, causing all shit to hit the fan. In order to restore and maintain order, the President considers implementing martial law. At his side is General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) who led the campaign to capture the terrorist head. Of course your other TLA (three letter agencies) FBI, CIA, etc., have to get involved just to make sure that things get more complicated than they need to be.

One of the Bureau's finest, Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) is tracking the web of terrorists he believes responsible for the blood and carnage. He, along with his Arab-American partner, Frank Haddad (Anthony Shalhoub), work to root out these different cells that, while working collectively, can operate on an individual basis, thus eliminating a single point of failure and minimizing loss. Not to be left out of the pissing contest is the CIA who sends in Elise Kraft, (Annette Bening), a questionable agent with extensive knowledge of Arab language and culture obtained from living in the Middle East. Neither agency tells the others what they are doing, and it only worsens the normal government cluster-fuck.

The military, FBI, and CIA all collide not only over what to do, but also on how to do it. (Surprise, surprise--bureaucracy). Hubbard wants to take a by-the-book approach, where Kraft will resort to some less-than-ethical sexual persuasion to get her information. Devereaux is a loose cannon and the worst person to be in charge of soldiers and armament. This is compounded when the president eventually declares martial law, as Devereaux herds all Arab-Americans into interment camps (like the ones used for Asian-Americans in WWII).

The movie touches on several sensitive and quite relevant issues that have been looked at closely since Sept 11, by the Administration, the media, and we, the people; The U.S.'s support of certain factions in the Middle East, Americans taking their rights and security for granted, the constitutionality of having military tribunals for suspected terrorist, and of course, ethnic containment/profiling. If we target one ethnic group suspected of violent acts, who's next? Blacks, because of the inner city violence? Italians, because of the Mafia? The sad issue is, given the history of the U.S.; it is rather possible that this could happen. Granted, you'll probably inter more U.S. born Arab-American's than those from abroad. Remember that that Secret Service Agent of Middle Eastern decent who couldn't get on an airplane due to "suspicion"?

The Siege is one of those movies that sorely fell short of it's potential as a cinematic tour de force, which it might have been. The concept is superb albeit regrettably ill omened, but the script lacks true substance. I think the problem lies in the flat acting on the part of the main characters. Bruce Willis is billed as a star, but he doesn't appear until the last half of the movie and for some reason just doesn't carry the part off. Anthony Shalhoub seemed to be struggling with his Arab/American loyalties and identities, and is too preoccupied most of the film with getting his son out of the interment camp so most of his action goes to that overemotional subplot. Denzel Washington does a sufficient job, however, his should have not been the narrative point of view. The focal point of the movie should have been Annette Benning's character, but for some dim-witted rationale, the writer didn't do it that way. It seems for some peculiar reason that the last few films dealing with terrorism such as this one, and Arlington Road, just can't seem to get it right in the script or with the key characters. Rarely does Hollywood have such powerful subject matter to work with. Even so, The Siege does contain moral messages that I am sure that the director had no intention of sending, or perhaps he did. At any rate, you should see this movie, if your post 9-11 emotional constitution permits it. It will give you a lot to think about, and perchance, even more to fear.

Billz Movie Worthiness Scale: B-

Billz Movie Worthiness Scale Values:

A = movie tickets and popcorn for 2 (about $40)
B = buy the DVD when it comes out ($25)
C = rent it
D = wait for it to be on cable/pay TV
E = wait for it to be on regular TV

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