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Movies

Scenes from 'The Siege'

Review: Action-filled 'Siege' better suited to summer

Web posted on:
Friday, November 06, 1998 1:34:58 PM EST

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- On February 26, 1993 America lost its innocence, becoming an international terrorist target with the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. As a result, international terrorist attacks on American soil became a hot-button issue. "The Siege" plugs right into that primal fear.

This film asks the questions: What will Americans do if terrorism becomes as violent and commonplace in the the United States as it has been in other parts of the world -- like London, Paris, Tel Aviv and Athens? And will we risk the constitutional rights of a few in order to protect the majority?

In "The Siege," a radical Arab group blows up a bus full of innocent Americans in New York City. The result is instant public hysteria and governmental action.

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Denzel Washington is the head of the FBI's terrorism task force and the agent in charge of dealing with the crisis. Annette Bening plays a CIA undercover agent who is reluctantly working with him. Bruce Willis plays a slightly off-center, gung-ho military general who is reluctant to impose military law, but once it's established he does it by the book -- and then some.

Politically correct to nth degree

With martial law imposed on New York City there are controversial and disturbing scenes. Among them is one in which Arab Americans are herded into detention camps during the peak of the post-bombing hysteria.

There have been objections to this movie from some Arab American groups. But in my opinion, this film bends over backwards to be politically correct. Every T is crossed and ever I is dotted. Both the anti-Arab bad guys and the terrorist are all punished in the end. This film could have been made by the United Nations PR department.

The addition of actor Tony Shalhoub as Washington's FBI partner is also a big plus in the political correctness column. Shalhoub (best known for the TV series "Wings" and independent films such as "The Big Night") is of Lebanese descent. This is the first time he's played an Arab character in a film.

Given the people involved, there's a lot of good acting here and some nice plot twists in the script. Director Edward Zwick has brought us other military-themed films in the past -- including "Glory" and "Courage Under Fire," both of which starred Denzel Washington. Now with "The Siege," he once again provides very clean, sharp and fast-paced action.

This subject matter for this film is fascinating, chilling, very close to home and very disturbing.

But overall, the plot is fairly predictable and all the leads come with superstar luggage. Bening is Strong Woman. Washington is Self Righteous Good Guy, and Willis is Angry Dude with Lots of Weapons. Rarely has there been less creative stretching.

"The Siege" is typical summer popcorn fare. Why it's opening in November, surrounded by meaningful films hoping for Oscar's fickle glance, is a mystery to me. Action junkies and die-hard fans of any of the three main players may put this film on their must-see list. But for most of us, I think this film will get lost in the dust after its opening weekend.


"The Siege" is rated "R" for violence, profanity and a brief sexual situation. 109 minutes.

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