November 8, 1998 -- "The Siege" is almost like a science fiction story. It takes a "what would happen if" premise and extends it to its logical conclusion, just as science fiction does. The only difference is, events very similar to those depicted in "The Siege" actually did take place more than 50 years ago.
"The Siege" effectively portrays what might happen if New York City sustained a series of terrible terrorist bombings by a small, but determined band of terrorists and the FBI seemed to be unable to stop them. What would the government do in response?
In this case, the Federal Government declares a state of emergency and imposes martial law in Brooklyn, thought to be the center of the terrorist activity. Since the bombers are known to be Arabs, all people of Arab descent of a certain age group are rounded up and held in a sports stadium.
A unit of the U.S. Army led by General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) is in charge of hunting down the terrorists. Special Agent in charge of the investigation into the bombings is Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington of "Courage Under Fire"). The military occupation of Brooklyn hampers his investigation, but he is aided by an undercover CIA operative, Elise Kraft (Annette Bening of "Mars Attacks!") and his partner Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub of "Big Night") who is originally from Lebanon.
In addition to the Army driving the terrorists underground, Hubbard must also contend with direct interference from the Army. His phone conversations are intercepted and he is nearly killed when the Army sets up an ambush during what was supposed to have been a routine interrogation. Hubbard decides he has to take his investigation underground to avoid any further interference.
Although Devereaux does terrible things, he does so with the best of intentions. When Congress and the President violate the U.S. Constitution by authorizing the illegal imprisonment of U.S. citizens, they do so with the best of intentions. At one point Haddad's own 13-year-old son is imprisoned. When he can't free him, he throws his badge at Hubbard and says, "I'm not your sand nigger any more."
There are also other hate-filled attacks upon New York residents of Arab descent. One Arab store owner is shown bleeding. The glass front of his store is broken, just as the glass windows of Jewish-owned stores were broken in Germany before World War II under the direction of Adolph Hitler.
Of course the U.S. has done this kind of thing before. During World War II Americans of Japanese descent, along with some people of German and Italian descent, were rounded up and shipped off to camps where they were held prisoner behind barbed wire and armed guards.
The action was completely illegal and unconstitutional, but the courts upheld the action, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's executive order authorizing the "relocation" of American citizens to such camps as Wyoming's Heart Mountain, has never been revoked to this day. You think this could not happen? Think again.
There are numerous examples in American history of people being denied their constitutional rights simply because they were hated by a large segment of the population. Racial and ethnic prejudice have won out over the rule of law many times before and it will happen again. It will keep happening as long as people stand by and do nothing to oppose it.
"The Siege" is a movie about what happens when people are frightened enough to give up their freedom in the name of security. It accurately records the fact that when you make that choice you have neither safety nor freedom. Some have criticized this film as being unfair to people of Arab descent. Nonsense, it portrays them not only as terrorists, but as heroes and victims as well. The film strongly argues against such stereotypical thinking. It is also a logical extension of the World Trade Center bombing, which, in fact, was meant to be the first in a series of bombings very similar to the series of bombings depicted in the film.
The film is also an action movie, of course, with explosions and shootings and so on, and it also succeeds on that level. The cinematography by Roger Deakins ("Kundun" and "Fargo") is very good and the cast is excellent. While the ending was pure Hollywood, and there was too much cute spy stuff, most of the film was suspenseful, engaging and thought-provoking. It rates a B.
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