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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'The Siege'

2 November 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Fitting for an election-month release, "The Siege" is a cautionary political actioner that not only touches close to home, it strikes right in the center at a time when political/religious terrorism may be our most serious invasion threat.

Starring Denzel Washington as head of a joint FBI/NYPD terrorism task force and featuring a steely supporting turn from Bruce Willis, "The Siege" should lay claim to sizable November boxoffice bounty.

As expected from a Lynda Obst production, "The Siege"'s scenario is brainy and richly compressed, at once a think piece on civil liberties and a taut, headline-culled actioner. In this tightly packed entertainment, Brooklyn has been assaulted by a campaign of terror. Arab zealots have blown up a busload of innocent passengers in a suicidal mission to coerce the United States into releasing a sheik they believe the U.S. kidnapped as a suspected terrorist mastermind.

New York, in the wake of the World Trade Center incursion and reeling from memories of Oklahoma City, is thrown into civic panic. A second explosion destroys a full-house Broadway theater, virtually emptying Manhattan -- parents keep children from school, Madison Square Garden cancels events, etc.

On the counterterrorism hot seat is a diligent civil servant, Frank Hubbard (Washington), whose tenacious resolve is matched only by his cool aplomb. Unfortunately for Hubbard, he has more help than he needs: He finds the CIA is running a clandestine operation against what it deems Arab terrorist cells operating out of Brooklyn. And "government intelligence," Hubbard soon finds, is the oxymoron he suspects.

Worse, the military is on more than standby alert, as embodied by a "visit" from the Army's chief poobah, Gen. William Devereaux (Willis). While "Siege" charges forward as a harrowing actioner, its most intriguing moments are in its delineation of FBI and CIA anti-terrorist procedures. The story's cloak-and-gadgets aspects are captivating as Hubbard and his cohorts, including a mysterious CIA female op (Annette Bening), race against time and mounting public hysteria to ferret out terrorist cells.

Lifting "Siege" above the general-issue action piece is its intelligently layered treatise on civil liberties, namely a subplot involving a presidential decree for martial law that, we see through the filmmakers' wise lens, is a subversion of our way of life. Evenhanded and equanimous, "Siege" is not anti-Arab or anti any other ethnic group; it is, more accurately, anti-fascist. As such, print commendation letters to the screenwriters (Lawrence Wright, Menno Meyjes, Edward Zwick) for their entertaining, enlightened treatment of incendiary subject matter.

In the lead role, Washington is perfectly cast as a decent, dedicated public servant. His demeanor and actions are the perfect embodiment of a man of purpose and valor. And give a special salute to Willis for his smart turn as a smarmy general whose hypocritical public utterances mask a man whose ego transcends his call of duty.

Bening's gritty performance as a CIA operative with a personal burden to carry is smartly realized, while Tony Shalhoub is empathetic as a man caught between ethnic pride and professionalism.

Zwick's well-crafted, intelligent direction is largely responsible for the film's excellence. His technical contributors excel in their respective arenas: Roger Deakins' somber tones and tight compositions ignite the story line, while Graeme Revell's haunting score brings to the fore our compassions and fears.


20th Century Fox

A Lynda Obst production

An Edward Zwick film

Producers: Lynda Obst, Edward Zwick

Director: Edward Zwick

Screenwriters: Lawrence Wright,

Menno Meyjes, Edward Zwick

Executive producer: Peter Schindler

Director of photography: Roger Deakins

Production designer: Lilly Kilvert

Editor: Steven Rosenblum

Music: Graeme Revell

Costume designer: Ann Roth

Associate producer: Robin Budd

Casting: Mary Goldberg, Mary Colquhoun

Sound mixer: Allan Byer



Anthony Hubbard: Denzel Washington

Elise Kraft/Sharon Bridger: Annette Bening

Gen. William Devereaux: Bruce Willis

Frank Haddad: Tony Shalhoub

Samir Nazhde: Sami Bouajila

Sheik Ahmed Bin Talal: Ahmed Ben Larby

Muezzin: Mosleh Mohamed

Tina Osu: Lianna Pai

Mike Johanssen: Mark Valley

Fred Darius: Jack Gwaltney

Running time -- 120 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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