The Siege

Watching the new terrorist thriller “The Siege” is the equivalent of having great sex only to have your mom walk in on you. No matter what you do after that point is a waste of time.

That’s the problem I had with “The Siege,” the new thriller from director Edward Zwick. It’s about terrorists who take more than a bite out of the Big Apple. Half way through the film, the terrorists hold a busload of passengers hostage. It’s an intense stand-off that FBI agent Anthony “Hub” Hubbard (Denzel Washington) believes he can diffuse.

First he asks that the terrorists release the children on the bus. “What do they have to do with your cause,” Hubbard asks. There is silence. Then the bus door opens and a stream of children pour out to safety. That’s where the film lost me.

Oh, I get it. These are politically correct terrorists. Actually, “The Siege” wants to have its cake and eat it too. Writers Lawrence Wright, Menno Meyjes and Zwick do a decent job of getting us to this pivotal moment, and then they drop the ball.

Up until then, “The Siege” is actually quite engaging. It’s a strong movie, but it’s not very compelling. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding “The Siege,” mostly from the Arab community complaining that the film once again picks on them by portraying the terrorists as Arab fanatics. Excuse me?

The screen writers seem to go out of their way not to offend anyone, and that’s the film’s problem. Despite the tough and gritty exterior, “The Siege” wants to be a nice terrorist film. So what if the terrorists are Arabs. The film doesn’t condemn all Arabs, just the fanatics. In my opinion, they deserve to be condemned. Anyone who engages in terrorism, regardless of their political or religious motivations, should be round up and shot.

That’s what happens during the second half of “The Siege.” After three New York City terrorist bombings in a row, the President allows the Army to enact Martial Law on the city and squeeze the citizens until the terrorists are found. That sounds like a plan. They seal off the city, and start rounding up Arab males who fit the profile and deposit them in internment camps.

Uh oh, that’s not very politically correct. Neither is the man in charge, General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis), who feeds off his own power and likes to shoot first and ask questions later. He’s a perfect match for level headed FBI agent Hubbard, who likes to do things by the book. That doesn’t include torturing suspects to make them talk.

Both men butt heads with CIA operative Elise Kraft (Annette Bening), who likes to sleep with the enemy in order to get her information. We know this because Hubbard and his Arab-American partner Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub) stake out her apartment while she’s interrogating a suspect.

The first hour of the film is exciting and suspenseful, filled with one horrific moment after another. The characters speak in FBI lingo and shorthand, and do some real detective work.

Then there’s that disastrous bus explosion that ruins the rest of the film. The writer’s try to make it up to us by having a terrorist hold a classroom full of children hostage, but that’s just a false alarm. Then they blow up a Broadway theater, where bombs usually come and go without much fanfare.

That’s followed by one of those Oklahoma City Federal Building bombings that takes out the FBI headquarters in New York. It’s supposed to be exciting and gripping, but it’s played so broadly and generically that none of it matters.

Then General Devereaux enters the picture, and “The Siege” becomes laughable. It’s not really the fault of Willis, who could play the role in his sleep. The problem lies with the writers, whose idea of escalating the action is having Willis and Washington shout righteous speeches at each other.

We all know that rounding up Arab males and shoving them into internment camps is bad. We don’t need someone like Washington to stand on a soapbox and shout it until he’s blue. If Willis’ character were any more evil, he’d come with a oily mustache and a top hat.

I’m not sure what the film maker’s were thinking when they came up with the idea for “The Siege.” There’s a good idea buried under tons of nonsensical rhetoric.

The staging is impressive. How often do you see tanks and halftracks lining the Brooklyn Bridge? Okay, they do that every time Ken Starr comes to town, but in the movies, how often have we seen that?

The terrorist attacks are also impressive, if you want to call them that. Do we really need to see more gutted buildings after “The X-Files”? After the “Lethal Weapon” series, do we really need to see more buses explode?

The cast does fine when they’re not trapped by the silly script. Washington, who must be Zwick’s good luck charm (he starred in “Glory” and “Courage’), stands tall as Hubbard, who is the voice of reason in the film. Bening is cagey as the CIA operative who is more shaded than Marlon Brando on the beach. Willis fills out the uniform nicely, but his character has nowhere to go.

The film’s best asset is Tony Shalhoub, who brings depth and understanding to his character. When Haddad’s son is picked up during the sweep, you honestly feel his pain.

Technically, “The Siege” is impressive, but it’s all window trapping. There’s nothing beyond the glass and smoke.

Finally, while “The Siege” may be relevant, but is it necessary? I know that our government probably helped train them, but does Hollywood need to give terrorists any more ideas? It’s different when Chuck Norris is kicking their butt on their turf, but let’s not bring the madness any closer to home that we need to. That’s not entertainment.



Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Bruce Willis, Tony Shalhoub in a film directed by Edward Zwick. Rated R. 116 Min.


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