The Siege: More Important Now Than Ever Before
What I Remembered: When The Siege was first released in November of 1998, I’m shocked to say that i laughed it off. It’s hard to believe, but even though the United States had only recently survived two embassy bombings in Africa, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the idea of the United States being attacked by fanatic Middle Eastern terrorists and the government enacting severe measures to combat the terror felt far fetched. But, a year and a half later when I caught the film on HBO, I thought that it was a reasonably good thriller, but still something meant for the realm of fiction. However, after the horrific events of 9/11 it took on a new meaning. Suddenly, the New York City of the movie was not too distant from the one I was living in. As somewhat prescient as it felt in those days, seeing it again recently it took on a new significance. After the 2015 horrors of Paris and San Bernardino and the xenophobic reactions of some in the United States, I contend that it is a movie that everyone should see.
The Story: The Siege opens on then- President Bill Clinton holding a news conference about the bombing of a United States facility in the Middle East (It is very similar to the bombings of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1995.) then to the United States government capturing the terrorist leader responsible for the attack and holding him without trial. After that, it cuts to F.B.I. agent Anthony “Hub” Hubbard (Denzel Washington) and his partner a Lebanese born naturalized American citizen named Frank Haddad ( Tony Shaloub). They are both members of the joint FBI/NYPD Terrorism Task Force and they are called upon to negotiate at the scene of a bus that has been taken hostage by terrorists of Middle Eastern origin who claim to have a bomb on board. To Hub and Frank’s great relief when the bomb on the bus goes off, but it is a dud filled with blue paint. At the conclusion the incident, Hub and his fellow agents and officers at the Task Force receive a statement from those responsible for the incident to “Release Him” or the city of New York will face more terrorist attacks. At first having no information about the capture of the terrorist mastermind of the assault in the Middle East, Hub and Frank don’t know what to make of the communication, but go to visit the bus to see if it can yield any clues. At the site where the bus is being held in evidence, Hub meets Elise Kraft (Annette Benning) a C.I.A. agent who has a peculiar and suspicious interest in the bus and the group that Hub is investigating. Elise is not very forthcoming about why she is there. But, when a second bus is bombed she, Hub, Frank and all of their colleagues will become engaged in a struggle against an enemy they cannot identify and will have a very difficult time bringing to justice. The results of this battle will be the borough of Brooklyn being placed under martial law, Muslim and Arab Americans being put into detainment camps and the actions of a fanatical U.S. Army General (Bruce Willis) going to far to try to end the crisis.
Technical Details: The Siege had a tremendous lot of technical merit. Edward Zwick (Glory, Love And Other Drugs) did a fine job directing as he was able to create the feel of a city and country under siege with incredible realism. (This was especially unsettling when seeing the terrorist attacks on Broadway and at an elementary school that the movie depicted.) At the time it may have felt out there, but now it feels eerily close. Furthermore, the script penned mostly by him and Lawrence Wright( The latter was a writer who would end up authoring an excellent book about 9/11 called The Looming Tower.) was very well- crafted and structured. Finally, the cinematography was top notch as was the overall mood of the picture.
For all of these attributes the acting in the film was the linchpin of it. Nearly all the actors in it delivered extraordinary performances. Denzel Washington, Annette Benning, and Tony Shaloub were at their incredible best and although Bruce Willis received a Razzie for his work in The Siege, I did not think he was THAT bad. Additionally, I was tremendously impressed with French actor Sami Bouajila who played the character of Samir a Palestinian who has a murky relationship with everyone involved, very convincingly.
Even with these admirable qualities though the movie did have some flaws. Namely, it lacked character development to some degree, did not clarify certain elements and plot points, and wrapped up a little too quickly. That being said, those deficiencies don’t taint it too much.
End Credits: The Siege is not a perfect film, but one that I strongly urge everyone to see right now. At a time when the world is faced with the scourge of ISIS, seeing how some of the characters are able to face a group similar to it with strength and stoicism and without fear id something that we should all do. At a time when certain presidential candidates are making incredibly dangerous, prejudiced statements against all Muslims and Arabs- not just those that follow the insane radical ideology of a few- and threatening to ban all Muslims, this film should be viewed to see how far such rhetoric can go when put in practice. Finally, when the question of how to balance security with individual rights once again one people are starting to ask, seeing how it is balanced in this film is worth taking a look at.
The Siege may have seemed improbable at the time it was released. It may have seemed frighteningly somewhat similar in the Fall of 2001. But, now in a country that has been at war with radical Islamist terrorism for fifteen years, and when those radicals have become more vicious than before, and their acts and perversion of their religion have led to xenophobia and prejudice in certain circles, it is painfully accurate. Therefore, regardless of your religion, heritage, or political persuasion, you should see this movie. Doing so, has never been more important.