Denzel Washington and director Edward Zwick have had an amazing track
record together, working on two of the most powerful war films in recent
cinematic history: 1989's aptly named Civil War epic _Glory_, and 1996's
underappreciated Gulf War mystery _Courage_Under_Fire_. For _The_Siege_,
their third collaboration, Washington and Zwick work with a fictional
war-like situation, and the mediocre result is dismayingly unworthy of
their combined talents.
_The_Siege_ would appear to take an original spin on a basic political
thriller. After the efforts of an FBI team led by special agent Anthony
Hubbard (Washington), aided by shady CIA operative Elise Kraft (Annette
Bening), fail to end a rash of terrorist bombings in New York City, the
White House takes drastic action--deploying a squadron of Army troops to
enforce martial law in the Big Apple.
This should be the point at which _The_Siege_ takes off, but it instead
takes a turn for the worse. What had been a rather thoughtful thriller
with some effective suspense sequences (notably a scene with a bomb-rigged
bus, which is prominently featured in the tell-all trailer) becomes
formulaic and, at times, insufferably didactic and sappy. After some
investigation, the bombing culprit(s) is determined to be Arab, so the
troops round up the entire Arab-American population and hole them up in a
stadium. This not only leads to some scenes of races uniting to protest
the injustice, but one of the detained is the son of Hubbard's partner
Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub), setting the stage for tiresome "concerned
father" moping and a teary father-son reunion (oops, did I spoil something
for anyone there?).
At the center of _The_Siege_'s problematic final act is Bruce Willis and
his character General William Devereaux, who leads the Army in New York.
Writers Zwick, Lawrence Wright, and Menno Meyjes never figure out what do
to with the character. Devereaux is shown in the White House earlier in
the film expressing his reluctance to be involved in the enforcement of
martial law, yet by film's end he's become a gung-ho, power-mad zealot,
getting in touch with the _Judge_Dredd_ within and angrily declaring, "I AM
THE LAW!" An understandably confused Willis, wearing a ridiculously
godawful wig (his hair stylist, Bunny Parker, should be shot), plays
Devereaux as only he can--as if he wandered in from the set of his latest
action opus. Apparently that bug is contagious, because the overwrought
standoff climax (complete with, yes, a preachy speech) the writers cook up
is straight out of a standard-issue Hollywood actioner.
On the other hand, Bening and especially Washington deliver reliably
strong, passionate performances. However, as stunning on the whole as
Roger Deakins's cinematography is, his camera is inexplicably unforgiving
on these two powerful screen presences. Washington looks more than a
little chunky, and the usually luminous Bening looks shockingly haggard.
That mix of the largely good with some glaring bad spots pretty much sums
up the rest of _The_Siege_.