The Siege Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

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America takes care of its own, and those who committed this act of terror will not go unpunished.
Brooklyn under martial law

Soldiers descending onto the streets of a city. Members of a visible minority, already the targets of racially motivated hate crimes, have their civil rights suspended. Subject to arrest without just cause, they are herded into barb-wired detention areas, where they are to be held without trial. All in the name of 'military necessity'.

These are some of the thought-provoking scenes found in "The Siege", the latest political thriller from director Edward Zwick ("Courage Under Fire"), a nightmare scenario in which Brooklyn is placed under military rule to guard against a spate of deadly terrorist attacks. However, these same disturbing scenes played out in North America fifty-six years ago, and in that case, it was the Japanese Americans that were unjustly arrested and placed into concentration camps for the duration of the Second World War.

Are you questioning my patriotism?
No, I'm questioning your judgement.
An all too common scene on the West Coast in 1942

On the 19th of February in 1942, ten weeks after the devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the removal and detainment of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast of the United States. This unjust confinement was deemed a 'military necessity' in order to prevent subversive activities from being committed on American soil. However, in actual fact, the decision to relocate the Japanese Americans was more the result of a general sentiment of racial intolerance (goaded by the popular press of the time), paranoia of the 'yellow peril' in light of the war with Japan, and exaggerated allegations of sabotage or espionage. Within a few months, 110,000 citizens of Japanese origin, despite 63% of them having been born in the United States, were forced from their homes and taken at gunpoint to camps in some of the most inhospitable terrain of the American Midwest.

It was not until 1988 that reparations were made and an official apology was given to the Japanese Americans interned during the war. It was that year that Public Law 100-383 was ratified, acknowledging the fact that the decision to remove and confine them was motivated largely by racial prejudice, and not out of security concerns over espionage or sabotage.

It's easy to tell the difference between right and wrong. What's hard is choosing the wrong that's more right.
Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis

In "The Siege", the city of New York is subject to an escalating series of terrorist attacks being carried out by a Middle Eastern terrorist cell. The head of the FBI's Terrorism Task Force, Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington of "Fallen") mobilizes his team of crackerjack agents to counter this terrorist threat. However, he soon learns that the FBI is not the only federal agency with an interest in catching these terrorists-- a Middle East specialist with the NSA, Elise Kraft (Annette Bening of "The American President"), seems to have an agenda of her own for investigating these attacks. However, Hubbard and Kraft soon find that they must pool their resources when their efforts are thwarted at every turn, and the death toll keeps rising.

I am the law, right here and right now!

Unsatisfied with the FBI's ability to halt the attacks, the President of the United States declares martial law on Brooklyn, and sends in the Army to restore order. Leading the Army into the city of two million is General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis, last seen in "Armageddon"), a megalomaniacal patriot. Steadfast in his resolve, Devereaux ruthlessly lays down a gauntlet, rounding up all males of Arab descent and locking them up in detention camps. Not surprisingly, this extreme reaction leads to some unsavory consequences, leaving Hubbard and Kraft at odds with Devereaux's strong-arm tactics.

The time has come for one man to suffer so that thousands may live.
Annette Benning and Washington

Even before "The Siege" opened up in theaters, Arab-Americans were up in arms over the negative and stereotypical portrayal of their people in the film. While the focus of the film is actually to stir up strong emotions against the mistreatment of Arab-Americans, the stock characterizations and the trite resolution of the film do little to allay their concerns. Instead of creating a thoughtful examination of racial intolerance and the precarious balance between the rights of individuals versus the rights of society, "The Siege" ends up being both mind numbing and formulaic.

It's lose-lose no matter how you cut it. You can either lose little or lose big.

The screenplay, which Zwick had a hand in, does exactly what his Arab-American pundits claim. While the script tries to make the Arab-Americans in the story a sympathetic group, we always see them from afar, and the audience is never privy to their experience of having their rights stripped away and being locked up without provocation. And while Hubbard does have an Arab-American partner, Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub), this bland character's involvement seems to serve more as a counterbalance against the terrorist characters. Unfortunately, the only Middle Eastern character that the script has invested in winds up being the leader of the terrorists (Sami Bouajila), in all his over-the-top snarling and saber rattling. The other 'villain' of the film, Devereaux, is also a victim of poor characterization and mixed motivations. In addition to being uninteresting for most of the film, the reasons for his gung-ho patriotism are never really explored, and his surprise revelation at the film's end smacks of moustache-twirling villainy.

Elise Kraft wouldn't know the difference between a sheik and a prophylactic of the same name.
Thanks for the 'heads up'.

The end result: instead of being an insightful, allegorical, and cautionary tale, which such a compelling premise demands, "The Siege" ends up being no more than your average big screen spectacle, and does nothing to reflect the real-life injustices of recent history.

I'm not under your command!
Take a good look around Hubbard, and tell me if you really believe that.

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.

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