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I remember hearing about this film before its release. It had caught a
great deal of flack for its use of Arabs and Muslims in particular as
violent extremists. Even at that time I knew that the protests against
film were nothing more than politically correct nonsense, as even then
only trans-oceanic terrorists that existed were of the fake-Muslim
that today we hear about every hour.
When I saw the film, I was impressed by the fair nature of the film, in that it portrayed the truth: these extremists exist in the overwhelming minority of Muslims, and that it is unwise and unfair to paint them all with the same brush. With a very good script, excellent performances and exciting action pieces, I was impressed.
Jump ahead a few years, and we see what we have learned. This film was not just an intelligent story. It was a warning sign. It examined things that people did not want to talk about. It examined things that people thought it more politically correct to ignore. It portrayed events realistically and in fact far less devastating than what was possible. If there is one thing that can be learned by examining a film such as this in retrospective of recent events, it is that our species chooses to ignore that which it does not want to accept.
Those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps there are other subjects we should stop being so PC about and actually talk about instead of worrying about "how it will look."
This film, made in 1998, is so close to the reality of Sept. 11, 2001 that
it sends chills down your spine. Although events played out differently, so
many elements in the film are near-mirror reflections of the reality. The
attacks are carried out by Islamic extremists, whose core network were
trained by the CIA, their attacks were dramatic and centered on New York
City, there was little cooperation between, the FBI, CIA and military, and
Arabs and Arab-Americans were rounded up in large numbers, or were subjected
to harassment and violence. The images of bodies and debris are no less
shocking than the sight of people jumping to their death from the World
Trade Center. Torture was employed by US soldiers, in pursuit of
terrorists. With all of that said, even had the attacks of Sept. 11th not
occurred, this would still be a tremendous film.
Director Ed Zwick and actor Denzell Washington team up once again for a great one-two punch. Denzell brings great humanity to his role as an FBI agent, charged with counter-terrorism operations and investigations. He is aided by Tony Shalhoub, who delivers another great performance and some of the best lines. Annette Benning displays her talent as a CIA operative at the heart of the whole crisis. Roger Deacons adds his wonderful cinematography, and Bruce Willis turns in a fine performance as an over-zealous army general.
The film delivers a cautionary tale about extreme reactions to terror and the loss of freedoms that can result from acting in anger, rather than with reason and law. The rounding up of citizens, as depicted in the film, and the declarations of martial law, are not that far away from the provisions of the Patriot Act, which violates First Amendment rights, the right to privacy, and the right to due process. The film suggests that by giving up these rights, or stripping them away, we become the very thing that our enemies claim we are. It suggests that that may be the terrorists true aim.
This is not a crystal ball prediction of 9/11; but it is a fine thriller. The filmmakers did their homework and got quite a bit right. They also extrapolated things to an extreme, but not an implausible one. However, they delivered an excellent film, and one that should be seen and studied.
At first glance, The Siege looks to be a jingoistic, typically heroic
American patriot film. But upon further review, and if you honestly
give this movie a chance and listen to what it has to say, you'll see
that it wants us to listen, it wants us to learn and it wants us to
just look at the possibilities of " what if? ".
This is one of the best movies that I have seen in recent years and what kind of stumps me is the negative criticism surrounding the film, not just the complaint of racism ( I'll get into that later ) but about the film in general. And I have come to a conclusion that not everybody will agree with and certainly many will dislike.
The positive reviews that have been in the IMDb have been, at least a great many of them, from people that are nationalities other than American. And perhaps the reason for that is that we can sit back and look at the U.S. from afar and it may be easier for us ( as non Americans ) to understand more clearly what this movie is trying to say. And it may be easier for us ( whatever nationality we happen to be ) to understand what is wrong with America and why a film like this is just trying to give one possible reason for the decay of American society. That is not to say that our own countries don't have problems, because they do, but we can just see what is wrong with America a little easier, we are not blinded by our own patriotism. It may be easier still for perhaps Europeans to appreciate the movie even more than others because maybe their own countries have been under siege at one point or another. And maybe the relevance is that much more prevalent when you have been that close to something.
And what this movie has to say perhaps should not be taken lightly.
Steve Martin's character in " The Grand Canyon " uttered the line " watch the movies, they have all of life's answers. " Perhaps that has never been more true than what this film's message is. And I believe that message is that sooner or later if there is always going to be that one watch dog, that one Big Brother that is known as the United States, then something like this may happen. What if....
I truly believe this movie has been unfairly criticized about it's apparent racist tones. Every time there is a bombing by terrorists that are Arab in heritage, there is always a scene that follows where the Arab leagues lend their support and let the FBI know that they want these criminals brought to justice just as much as anyone does. " They love this country just as much as we do. " Denzel says in one of his speeches to the people in charge. Is it really racism when a movie tries to explore what could happen when one body of government takes matters in their own hands and breaks international law? To me every effort was made to show Arabs as normal, family loving, law abiding, peaceful citizens that they are. A bunch of Arab terrorists does not mean that all Arabs are fanatics that are bent on destroying America. That perception is like believing that all we as Canadians do is play hockey, drink beer and play in the snow.
The movie itself is so well acted and it is so well written that I really can't understand why Washington did not get a nod for best actor. He is mesmerizing. And I think his final confrontation with the general is tense, and brilliant.
Washington plays Hub, a very patriotic, by the book FBI agent that is personally affected by all the chaos that has ensued in his city, and he plays him brilliantly. Bening and Shaloub are also wonderful in their roles and the music in the film is haunting. Willis is a little weak in the film but that is minor in comparison to the rest of the movie.
If you haven't seen this film because of what you have heard, give it a chance, it is well worth it. And try to watch it and listen to what it has to say. You may be surprised. I'm not sure if something like this could ever happen to the US, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.
I still can't see why this film was looked down upon objectively by the Arab-Americans living in the USA. Granted, this was before all of the Sept. 11 bombings, but the way the people were depicted in the film was objective. You had the extremists, capable of destroying building with no remorse from life, and you then had the other side. The innocents, the legal Arabs who love this country as much as the next person, blindly being lumped into one group without any provocation. This film isn't about anti-Arab sentiment, its more about paranoia and hasty decision making brought about by reactionary leadership. Interesting and enthralling, this film is better than what most people give it credit for.
This was a very strange film. Strange, because it had so many of its
facts right for 9/11. Right city, right jihadists, right plot.
And the military's answer to the terrorist threats? Go in, plunder, pillage, torture, abuse and kill the bad guys. Moral? If we stoop to their level, we are no better than the enemy. The real irony is, Denzel's character had the CHARACTER to do the right thing.
Oddly, and presciently, Bruce Willis' general was about to do all the wrong stuff, and with a little help from Denzel, decided not to resort to all the things we really have resorted to. This movie is notable for several reasons, but the uppermost is showing us the future we shouldn't take, but took anyway.
The irony is not lost. What is confounding here is how much of this originally semi-corny movie got right. Washington, Benning, Shaloub, and Willis, all deliver in a big fashion, with some pertinent warnings. The road not taken was the moral. How scary that in the long run, when presented by a much larger threat, we one-upped this movie's punch line in reality. How much stranger can you get than that?
This was a fairly realistic portrait of the underworld, the intrigue, the terrorism, and gave us a scary view of our future. Hopefully, next time a movie like this one comes along, we might be better served by taking it more seriously.
Watching the 1998 THE SIEGE in 2007 and then rolling through all the
reviews of this film from the time of release to the present is a
lesson in the power of the cinema. The obvious initial response was
less about the film as a film than about the manner in which the FBI,
CIA, Military, Terrorists, and public responded to the unimaginable:
shouts of protests about 'glorification of occult terrorists', the
Hollywood idea of the impossible happening, and the criticism of the
fine cast of actors who steeped into roles 'beyond swallowing' are all
here in these reviews.
Now, six years after 9/11 reviewers are taking a different view, though most still find the film pompous and obnoxious. Offensive versus defensive. And after viewing the movie as a movie it is gratifying to know that people feel strongly and are vocal about the depiction of the 'war against terrorism' we continue to lose. Movies that make people think and talk are valuable, and in that light the film is more successful than initially considered.
Yes, there are gaping holes in the script and the plot and the concept, but as a little thriller it maintains our attention throughout and offers some fine moments from actors such as Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Tony Shalhoub, Bruce Willis, Sami Bouajila, Ahmed Ben Larby, Aasif Mandvi among others. And then there are the panoramas of New York City under siege with the Twin Towers standing mightily in the cityscape... It begs the question: if scriptwriter Lawrence Wright and director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Courage Under Fire, Glory, Leaving Normal, Legends of the Fall, etc) were thinking along these lines and finding flaws in our intelligence forces, why weren't the leaders in Washington, DC in tune with 'absurd possibilities'? It makes one think - and that is the best thing about this film. Grady Harp
I seem to remember that this film was looked down upon by the Arab Americans. I don't understand that considering the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and some of the perpetrators who were eventually apprehended. My husband and I found The Siege frighteningly entertaining. Once more Denzel Washington gave a tour-de-force performance. The rest of the cast was excellent. The script was prophetic. The writer understood what might happen if the war on terror resided in New York City. Where is Lawrence Wright now?
Edward Zwick's The Siege is a well made suspense film about the de-construction of NYC. Not literally, but by arab terorists that set bombs off all over the City and Denzel Washington (great as always) plays a FBI agent who is trying to catch the units that are doing this. Annette Benning is also good as a foreigner who has a link to the arabs. But soon, this leads up to martial law in NYC, and army man Bruce Willis (also very good as a stone figured tyrant) begins to get arabs into concentration camps. This is pretty controversial in and of itself becauase this seems to be where NYC is headed. Director/writer Zwick knows that, and makes that knowledge into one hell of a good thriller.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What if the events in the news about the Middle East were to happen in
the crowded streets of Brooklyn? Buses being blown by terrorists, or a
bombing at the FBI headquarters, downtown Manhattan, or even a Broadway
theater? No one is spared in this war being waged by terrorists that
have infiltrated the country. In view of how the world has changed in
the post September 11th era, it is not a far fetched idea because it
could happen at any given moment.
"The Siege", directed by Edward Zwick, who also collaborated on the screen play, in retrospect, can be seen as precautionary warning of how things could degenerate when a group of Middle Eastern extremists start setting up a number of deathly attacks on institutions one holds dear. After all, wasn't the purpose of most of the wars to be fought overseas in order to keep America safe?
Anthony Hubbard, the level headed FBI agent in charge of investigating the terrorists' activities must face deadly enemies. In doing so, he also has to deal with the bigotry as the press and the government decide to round up innocent law abiding people whose only fault is to be of the same race as the few people that are creating panic in the city with their agenda. Of course, all this came out in a 1998 movie, which proves to be almost prophetic in heralding the attacks on the Twin Towers.
"The Siege", in a way, points out to the present Guantanamo. When hundreds of Arab-Americans are detained, they are sent into holding places where there is no hope of having justice done. Things go from bad to worse when Frank Haddad, Hubbard's own partner, learns his own teen aged son is taken to one of those places. A father's despair is real since he works trying to preserve law and order, but suddenly he realizes that bigotry has won the battle.
The other aspect of the story involves a sort of Mata Hari, an American born in Lebanon, whose loyalties are always questioned. We don't know whether to believe Elisa Kraft, and yet, she is always at the right place at the right moment, sometimes fighting Hubbard, who is skeptical of her methods.
When all hell lets loose, a misguided Army general, William Devereaux, is made to be in charge of the forces protecting New York City. Martial Law is declared and the city is living its worse moment until Hubbard rises to challenge Devereaux and his men.
As thrillers go, "The Siege" is packed with action. Denzel Washington is perfect as the decent FBI agent in charge. Annette Benning brings an aura of mystery to her CIA operative, who could be also a double spy. Tony Shalhoub appears as Hubbard's partner. Bruce Willis is the uptight Gen. Devereaux.
Edward Zwick directed with his usual style, making this a satisfactory tale that can well happen, although one can only hope it never does. Steven Rosemblum's editing works well with the action in the film. The cinematography of Roger Deakins captures a Brooklyn that is seldom seen in pictures. The music score by Grame Revill adds to the texture of the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this when it came out. At the time, it bombed. Critics -- and I
remember in particular the critic in my local paper -- said it was
shrill and unrealistic. The military would never torture prisoners,
never suspend the constitution, never round up Muslim men in unlawful
pens, and most of all never do so because that's what's at the root of
the terror food chain. We would never conduct an extraordinary
I myself saw this and felt the same: it was just too unrealistic and seemed to unnecessarily hammer a point. Surely we all knew that what makes America special is its consistent rule of law. That was then. This is now. Now we know the president authorized torture, ignored the law. We know the military and CIA did these very things. We also know irrefutably that there are two orders of magnitude more terrorist recruits now because of these offenses.
I often watch old movies and enjoy the metastory that rides on how its context has changed between when it was made and when I see it. This is only ten years old, but what a ten years! Seeing the World Trade Center in the city shots makes it all the more powerful.
Both then and now, the acting seems off; its always apparent that these people are reading lines in between sitting in canvas chairs. Also at both poles of watching, the pacing, the plodding speeches and the ersatz explosions still seem poor. It is, really a bad movie in all the ordinary respects.
But watching it now has the same effect I would get from watching "Plan 9" after a monster octopus under alien influence had actually attacked me.
Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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