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The Siege Edward Zwick
The Siege For the uncynical, The Siege, a movie about terrorist attacks in New York City, should be a great movie. Given the events of September 11 just three years later, the movie is surprisingly prescient with regards to the debates about civil liberties that ensued, but incorrectly optimistic about what side of those debates would prevail. Played by Denzel Washington’s, FBI agent Anthony “Hub” Hubbard is meant to be the ideal, tirelessly fighting the terrorists while also striving to uphold the Constitution and the American way of life.

Bruce Willis’ General Devereaux gives lip-service to those ideals as well. In fact, my interpretation of his character is that he actually does believe in them, but when presented with the power to stop a string of terrorist attacks in New York City abuses his power.

It is Devereaux’s apprehension of the fictitious Sheikh Ahmed bin Talal (Ahmed Ben Larby) that sets terrorists upon New York City. First a warning. A paint bomb on a bus comes with a call for the release of their Sheikh. When that warning is not headed, terrorists blow up the next bus. Next a theater is bombed killing many high-profile New Yorkers. As calls for a possible military occupation of New York grow louder, the FBI’s headquarters are hit with a truck bomb, killing a staggering 600 people. I remember the first time I watched The Seige actually being taken aback by the number. Despite the objections of Hubbard and Devereaux, the President declares marital law.

Despite his newfound power Devereaux shows concern for the implications, claiming
I am here serving my president, and quite possibly not in the best interests of our nation. My profession does not allow me to make that kind of distinction.
The general soon ratchets up the security though, rounding up Arab men in Brooklyn and putting them in cages in Yankee Stadium (in the Bronx). Despite this an Arab-rights activist (Hany Kamal) pledges the support of the community because people are generally good in this film, terrorists exempted.
I represent the Arab Antidefamation League. Whatever injustices my people may be suffering at this very difficult moment, we will continue to show our commitment to this country.
Everyone will soldier on because they love America and because, as Hubbard extolls, New York is just as strong as others who have dealt with terrorism.
London. Paris. Athens. Rome. Belfast. Beruit. We're not the first city to have to deal with terrorism. Tel Aviv. The day after they bombed the market in Tel Aviv the market was open and it was full. This is New York City. We can take it.
The people of New York, attacked by Arab terrorism, angrily protest the occupation and the interment in the streets even when confronted by their troops. The Siege is shooting for that sweet spot of security and civil liberties that will be forever debated in American politics.

Does this jibe with what happened after 9/11? It’s not that I expected the makers of The Siege to accurately gauge the reaction to a string of terrorist attacks, it’s just that the movie, released so close to 9/11, runs counter to the celebrated militarism and condoned torture we saw.

The military clashes with Hubbard’s team. The casting, it should be noted, was very good. Tony Shalhoub and Lance Reddick are favorites of mine. Reddick, with his deep voice, always plays a great member of law enforcement. Shalhoub routinely upstages everyone but Washington. He is strong when dealing with suspects like Samir Nazhde (Sami Bouajila) or agents like Elise Kraft (Annette Benning), a CIA agent whose political allegiances within the government are not clear. Sopranos star David Proval plays a part. The team is rounded out by Lianna Pai and Mark Valley.

Hubbard, in spite of the FBI’s diminished capacity and mandate, pushes on with the investigation. Devereaux’s intelligence unit surveils the team in order to get to their suspects first. When Hubbard apprehends Tariq Husseini (Amro Salama), the military takes him away by force, resulting in more losses for the FBI (Reddick included). Husseini is tortured and then, having no intelligence of value, is murdered under Devereaux’s orders. Against this Hubbard fights.
Come on General, you've lost men, I've lost men, but you - you, you can't do this! What, what if they don't even want the sheik, have you considered that? What if what they really want is for us to herd our children into stadiums like we're doing? And put soldiers on the street and have Americans looking over their shoulders? Bend the law, shred the Constitution just a little bit? Because if we torture him, General, we do that and everything we have fought, and bled, and died for is over. And they've won. They've already won!
And finally Hubbard prevails, convincing the general to stand down.
You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to a fair trial. You have the right not to be tortured, not to be murdered, rights that you took away from Tariq Husseini. You have those rights because of the men who came before you who wore that uniform. Because of the men and women who are standing here right now waiting for you to give them the order to fire. Give them the order, General.
It is a film with good intentions and a good cast, with a little bit of action and suspense, but maybe lacking some cynicism.
116 minutes
This product was released around November 1998
I consumed this around 1999, May 2014
More: The Siege
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 5/30/2014 10:16:31 PM

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