by Ryan Arthur
It's perplexing, really. This film should be better.It's well-made, nicely acted, and completely predictible, and that's a shame considering everyone involved.
"Today, plot twists are history,"
Director Ed Zwick has done some really incredible work with some of his previous films, like Glory and Courage Under Fire, both of which used war as a backdrop, and both of which had Denzel Washington in prominent roles. Those two movies were excellent films, with excellent casts, so I was hopeful that this film would be equally as enjoyable.
It does start out promising. Washington plays Anthony Hubbard, the head of the FBI's counterterrorism unit in New York. When there's a bomb on a bus (not moving, so relax, Keanu), Hubbard and his partner Frank Haddat (Tony Shalhoub) lead the team in trying to figure out why it was just a paintbomb and not a real bomb. What is the message the terrorists are trying to send, and what, exactly, does Elise Kraft (Annette Bening) have to do with all of it? Tough questions. The problem is that the terrorists are pissed about the U.S. holding a spritiual leader, a leader that General Devereaux (Bruce Willis, in what's basically a glorified cameo) swears up and down isn't being held. The terrorists gradually decide to make themselves heard, by actually blowing up a bus the second time (one of the film's more tense moments), a broadway theater, and eventually FBI headquarters.
At this point, the Army (led by Willis) moves in, declaring martial law and rounding up any Arab American that fits the profile of the suspected terrorists. Hubbard and Kraft have to find out who the terrorists are and where they can be found before the Army does efore the Constitution itself becomes worth less than the paper it's been written on, while Haddat grapples with the fact that his teenage son has een rounded up as a suspect and placed in what is essentially a modern day internment camp.
At times, The Siege is decent drama, but it's also at times offensive. We never really see the enemy, we just know that they're Arab (or Arab-American), and the attitudes in the film towards those characters are less than stellar. It's not to the point where comparisons towards the Holocaust or Japanese internment camps will be blatantly obvious, but should stick out. "We" would essentially be no different than "them." The Siege can't decide if it wants to be a popcorn movie or a message movie or some hybrid between the two, and audiences will have to choose for themselves.
When we do see the mastermind behind the terrorist activities, it's a tremendous letdown. Only two Arab-American characters are given substantial screentime, and one of those is the Haddat character, so the moment we see the other character, we know he'll eventually be the one caught, captured or killed, and all suspense is lost. The third act, featuring a confrontation between Washington and Willis, seems tacked on and artificial, a twist that was ultimately unnecessary.
What is good is the performances. Washington is comfortable in his role: he's been in this type of character before, the voice of calm and reason who gets to deliver one or two firey speeches. He's a great actor, no doubt. Bening is also fine in her role, a CIA spook who's sort of in bed with the terrorists. She's good at knowing what's going on but not revealing her hand. Willis was strictly one-note. It could've been a meaty role for him. He's got the menace and the glower down, but it's just not enough.
For my money, the best performance came from Shalhoub. Most people know him almost exclusively as that guy from Wings, but he's got skills. He's powerful as Haddat when he's looking for his son, or negotiating with terrorists, and he's amicable as the sidekick, getting off the best one-liners in an otherwise serious film. It's a different role than the one he had in Big Night, but he's still a fine, if underrated, actor.
Ultimately, though, The Siege seems hollow. It looks good (although the images of the aftermath from attacks may seem a little too close to home for some), and Zwick has a good eye and steady direction. But there's never much suspense, and you're waiting for the inevitable final confrontation to happen. It's not the best work of all involved (and it's the least satisfying of the three Washington-Zwick pairings), it's merely adequate.If it's Denzel you want, rent Glory or Courage Under Fire.
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originally posted: 11/09/98 10:21:13