Directed by Edward Zwick, the man who brought you Glory and Courage Under Fire, The Siege is an over the top terrorist drama about national reaction to terrorism and specifically, Arab terrorists. Using his favorite (and mine) director of photography Roger Deakins, Zwick makes this otherwise mildly silly movie pretty dang watchable. It was like eating celery – crunchy and loud and tasty – then zero caloric content after all that trouble chewing it.
Denzel Washington and Annette Bening and Tony Shalhoub should also take some credit for making this film the immediate gratification fest that it is. They are, all three of them, utterly committed to the story – and you are lost in the genuineness of their acting before you realize how nuts the whole thing is. Basically, some seemingly random terrorism escalates, targeting no groups and making no demands, and Washington is on an anti-terrorism task force with Shalhoub. Unfortunately, it looks more and more to be an Arab group of some kind, which starts a pretty big reactionary ripple, and ultimately, martial law, compliments of Bruce Willis. Willis is also following his formula of no hair = good acting, lots of hair = bad acting. I love Bruce when he’s bald and really eating up a part, but he can’t be solely blamed for how ridiculous he ends up being in this movie.
Not surprisingly, in real life, Arab anti-defamation leagues popped up protesting the depiction of Arab-Americans in the film. Now, I admit openly that, not being Arab-American, I am not culturally literate in their mores and sensibilities, and I mean no offense by any statements here. I felt that the film targeted the few people in those war-torn countries who *do* act out in a terrorist manner (globally) and also showed a great deal of honorable traits of those people. Plus, it is the first high-profile movie I can think of that even acknowledges them as a community. The start of the film shows the infusion of Islamic religious practice and solidarity among the Arab peoples. Prisoners showed dignity and commitment to their causes, and basically it was U.S. Army again as the real bad guy. One lunatic or a small group of 4 lunatics does not define a people. We see white American lunatics all the time in movies and know that they are not stating that all white Americans are lunatics. Anyway…in our end-of-the-millennium freakout stage, I would argue that the prayerful Islamic ones are going to be able to band together when the riots start and not us over at Starbuck’s.
The Anti-Defamation leagues have a story-related appearance in the film, as well – and they are pretty much blown off (respectfully, but still…). It seems as if there could have been more attention spent to working with those groups in the plot but whatever. Plot is secondary to tension in The Siege. Sitting in the theatre, occasionally spouting quips, (“That’ll do, pig.”), I was pretty involved in the movie and I felt a sense of trepidation and buildup and stuff. But the warmth of the theatre had not even fully been blown away by the outdoor wind before we were picking apart the silliness. It’s a shame, because the stuff that was good, was pretty good. Denzel is chewing up the scenery in this one, really digging in for this director who loves to use him.
Hopefully the upcoming Arlington Street (Tim Robbins, Jeff Daniels) will be better.
Last movie seen in 1998! See you in the new year!
MPAA Rating R for violence, language and brief nudity.
Release date 11/6/98
Time in minutes 116
Director Edward Zwick
Studio 20th Century Fox