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The Siege

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

Review by Walter Frith
3 stars out of 4

Someone once wrote that in order to preserve liberty, freedom may have to be suspended occasionally and someone wrote back that he who would suspend freedom for the sake of liberty deserves neither liberty or freedom. Interesting semantics. In my country, Canada, we had a national crisis in 1970 when a group of separatists using terrorist tactics and who kidnapped and murdered a government official, were rounded up when our Prime Minister used the war powers act and order was quickly restored. I happen to agree with that call simply because civil liberties are already suspended so why not put that power in the hands of people who are trying to restore order rather than the ones who try and take it away.

In 'The Siege', not only is martial law brought to the forefront for the prevention of terrorism, but it also shows that no solution is perfect. The film is a good mix of domestic law enforcement countered by the debate of what measures are acceptable in fighting terrorism.

Director Edward Zwick ('Glory', 'Legends of the Fall' and 'Courage Under Fire') has crafted a suspenseful and meticulously loud batch of social commentary to get this debate under way. Denzel Washington stars as an FBI agent in New York City who works to combat recent acts of terrorism popping up all over the Big Apple. He meets a covert (oops!, not anymore) CIA operator (Annette Bening) investigating the terrorism from a clandestine approach to the situation and eventually the two of them work together. The terrorism unfolds as the U.S. holds a middle eastern leader as a suspect in other terrorist acts. Washington butts heads with a fanatical army general (Bruce Willis) who wants martial law brought about to satisfy his own hunger for power.

'The Siege' has a very interesting message in that for every violent action there is an equal and swift reaction as people begin demonstrating as martial law rips apart civil liberties and Arab males between 14 and 30 are rounded up and then put into concentration camp-style incarceration. One thing I admired the film for was the use of dialogue and situations to explain and avoid any defamation aimed at Arab-americans. One scene has a meeting where a group of civil figures from all points, law enforcement, the media, the army and Arab anti-defamation leagues explain their desire that not all of them should be stereotyped for the actions of a few. Washington's partner in the FBI (Tony Shalhoub) is shown as a law abiding and law enforcing Arab-american who loves his country and puts his life on the line everyday to serve it.

Denzel Washington does it again. This is his third teaming with director Edward Zwick after his Oscar-winning turn in 'Glory' and his impressive leading performance under Zwick in 'Courage Under Fire'. Washington is one of those actors who can rely on his own voice, look and personality to get into character each time and still manage to look different. Without the benefit of make-up, heavy accent or other altering factors most of the time, Washington can hold his own with any of the world's top performers. He has proven to be both sensitive and tough on screen and his performance in 'The Siege' is totally different than his excellent work earlier in the year in Spike Lee's 'He Got Game'.

Annette Bening is the only wrinkle in the film. I didn't really buy her as a CIA agent and Bruce Willis is rather forgettable as the fanatical general. But these factors are compensated for by telling a gripping, plausible and tense story. Although terrorism has struck the United States in the past with the Oklahoma City incident and the World Trade Center bombings, it is reasonable to assume that these incidents while tragic and unacceptable, have so far been isolated incidents and 'The Siege' is filled with the intention of deflecting the possibility of such a thing ever occurring REGULARLY (terrorism) on American soil and to be prepared for it if it does.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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