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The Siege: Freedom Under Fire

 


What's the clear and present danger to America's democracy? According to director Edward Zwick's The Siege, it's not terrorism, but rather America's response to terrorism.

Part thriller, part civil liberties textbook, The Siege opens with the capture of an Arab terrorist, Sheik Ahmed Bin Talal. Seeking his release, Bin Talal's U.S. based-followers trail him to New York. Soon passengers on a New York bus is taken hostage and blown up, killing dozens.

The FBI assigns flinty, take-charge agent Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) to find the terrorists. While Hubbard pursues his quarry, the terrorists commit one atrocity after another, turning New York into a war zone. This results in a declaration of martial law and the internment of innocent Arab-Americans.

The scenes with Washington and his FBI colleagues in the Bureau's New York divisional office are the film's best, particularly those with Tony Shalhoub (Wings, Big Night) as Lebanese-born agent Frank Haddad. Washington barks orders one moment and flirts the next. The role doesn't give Washington a lot to do, but he makes the most of what he has.

A CIA operative, Elise Kraft (Annette Benning), with ties to the Arab community and Army General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) complicates the plot. Benning does a good job conveying her tangled relations with the Arabs, and her scenes with Washington sizzle.

As the Army general who seeks to rule New York, Willis plays Devereaux as a cross between Alexander Haig and Burt Lancaster in Seven Days in May, only less. Willis can do so much more, but you'd never guess it from his one-note performance here. This reviewer found herself wishing she could see what Alec Baldwin could bring to the role.

The scenes revolving around the bombings are taut and suspenseful, graphic but not gratuitous. And the shots of the Army troops marching over the Brooklyn Bridge send shivers down the spine.

Much has been made of the criticism by some Arab groups of the Arab community's portrayal in this movie. Most of the criticism is unjustified. Although the movie's terrorists are Arabs, the movie also takes great pains to show Arabs are not a homogeneous group. In fact, the actions of the terrorists run counter to the beliefs, desires and interests of most of the Arabs depicted in The Siege.

If any group should take offense, it's the U.S. Army. Zwick portrays the military as an asylum run by lunatics ready, willing and able to undermine our civil rights at the least provocation. By contrast, the movie idolizes the FBI and could easily serve as a Bureau recruiting film.

Zwick and Washington worked well together in Glory and Courage Under Fire. Although entertaining, The Siege doesn't play in the same league, but this reviewer looks forward to their next collaboration.

Joan Fuchsman

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