What steps are necessary to control domestic terrorism? How far do you go to combat an evil that hides among us? Those are among the questions that are asked by The Siege, a political thriller which goes a bit deeper than your traditional shoot-em-up to explain and question the ethics involved in battling an unseen enemy.
Denzel Washington stars as FBI agent, Anthony Hubbard. “Hub” is the leader of an anti-terrorism task force in New York City, who is thrust into the spotlight when a series of devastating terrorist attacks rock the city. As the incidents and the civilian body count rise, he is placed under increasing pressure to find and eliminate the terrorist cell.
As the incidents continue to escalate, the federal government begins to question whether standard law enforcement can hope to stop the bombings. The spectre of martial law is raised, under the leadership of one General Devereaux (Bruce Willis). Devereaux is personally against the idea, but if ordered to enforce martial law, he is determined to let no obstacle stop the army from destroying the terrorist threat.
Contributing to the confusing situation is the mysterious CIA agent Elise (Annette Bening). She apparently has tangental contacts with the terrorist cell, but how deeply is she (and the CIA) involved with the terrorists themselves?
Though it starts out apparently as a standard fight-the-terrorists thriller, The Siege eventually unfolds into an ethical debate. The Arabic-speaking population of New York (in which, it is presumed, the terrorists are hiding) become targets of suspicion and derision. Hate crimes against the community begin to rise, and the entire city is polarized.
Denzel Washington falls once again into a role where he gets to act out his righteous indignation. I suppose he gravitates toward those roles because he plays them so well (as he does here), but, at least just once, I’d like to see him argue the “wrong” side of a moral dilemma. Anyhow, his performance here is as captivating as always. Even though his character isn’t that interesting by itself, his sheer presence grabs your attention while he’s on the screen.
Bruce Willis is in a mostly thankless role as the reluctant general. He gets to speechify a bit upfront, but for most of the film he’s placed in the “bad cop” role (opposite Washington’s “good cop”). Annette Bening is an intresting wild card, and she’s able to hold her own opposite Washington.
As the bad guys, the terrorists in the film are rather shallow. They’re really used as merely a plot device, rather than actual villains. The true conflict is the ethical one…not the cop vs. terrorist storyline.
The moral questions at the center of the film are truly intriguing, and deserve contemplation. However, in order to wrap the film up with a tidy neat ending, the plot makes a few “lucky coincidence” leaps. It still flows alright, but the film loses a bit of moral resonance…it’s like playing with a stacked deck.
Still, The Siege is exciting and thought-provoking. It’s designed to stir up some questions (something which it certainly does), but it also entertains as well.