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(1998) (Denzel Washington, Annette Bening) (R)

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Drama: As terrorist attacks cripple New York City, an FBI agent, a CIA operative, and a military general attempt to find and stop the terrorists in their own disparate ways.
After the U.S. military covertly kidnaps an Arab sheik in a Middle Eastern desert, terrorist attacks begin sprouting up in Brooklyn. Consequently, Anthony Hubbard (DENZEL WASHINGTON), the head of the joint FBI/NYPD terrorism task force, along with partner Frank Haddad (TONY SHALHOUB), immediately step into action.

When Hubbard learns that Elise Kraft (ANNETTE BENING), a CIA operative, is snooping around a bus destroyed in a recent attack, her presence immediately arouses his suspicions. Knowing that she's out of her jurisdiction, Hubbard detains her, but soon realizes her knowledge of American/Arab relations will prove helpful since the terrorists appear to be part of some militant Arab group.

As more terrorist attacks occur, however, and despite Hubbard's discovery of several militant "cells," the President enacts the War Powers Act, thus declaring martial law and putting the borough in the hands of General William Devereaux (BRUCE WILLIS), a military leader reluctant to have the army step into civilian matters. Even so, the General is prepared to take whatever steps necessary to solve the problem and immediately deploys his forces.

Distrustful of Kraft, who turns out to know more and be much different than she initially appears - - along with having an enigmatic association with Samir Nazhde (SAMI BOUAJILA), an Arab national who might possibly be involved in the attacks -- and disagreeing with Devereaux's militant and often barbaric solution to the problem at hand, Hubbard and what's left of his team set out to find and stop the terrorists before matters get even worse.

If they're fans of the all star cast or of political thrillers, they probably will, but this one might be enticing only to older teens.
For violence, language and brief nudity.
  • DENZEL WASHINGTON plays the head of an FBI antiterrorism task force, a headstrong man who finds that he can't trust anyone but himself.
  • ANNETTE BENING plays a CIA operative who turns out to be a much different person that she originally appears to be. Along the way, she has sex with a witness who may or may not be involved in the terrorist attacks.
  • BRUCE WILLIS plays an army general who's reluctant to intervene in these matters, but once he's ordered to do so, does what it takes to get the job done, which includes rounding up Arabs into internment camps as well as torturing and killing a witness.


    OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
    One has to have been living in a cave not to have noticed the recent increase in domestic terrorism on American soil. Once a problem of "distant lands" and something viewed by most with passing interest on the evening news, such recent attacks have shown that the U.S. isn't impervious to such hostilities. Accordingly, the average citizen is now readily aware of the nation's, as well as his or her own individual vulnerability.

    Not surprisingly, Hollywood didn't take long to tap into his acknowledged fear with the high profile release of "The Siege." Although terrorists have long been a staple of cinematic villainousness (such as in the "Die Hard" films, "Air Force One," and many, many others), they've rarely elicited the big "what if" scenario that this film proposes.

    And that pertains to the notion of things getting so bad that the military is finally called in to "solve" the problem. It's an interesting premise, and for the most part this film from Edward Zwick -- the director of "Glory" -- does it justice.

    Part cautionary tale, part morality play, the film has its share of big action moments, but turns out to be more of a political thriller in the vein of "Patriot Games" (although not as good) than an action yarn along the lines of "Red Dawn" (where the Russian military enacted martial law on American soil).

    As such, it involves the obligatory U.S. government involvement in foreign affairs -- which, to no one's surprise, comes back around and bites Uncle Sam on the posterior, so to speak -- but it also contains something of a haphazard and occasionally perplexing first act.

    Whether Zwick does this on purpose to elicit a wary and apprehensive reaction from his viewers is debatable, but it certainly gives the film something of a "sloppy" feel and prevents it from fully engaging the moviegoer as it should.

    Part of that also lies with the fact that the "villain" is more of an anonymous group than a personified individual. Although that gives the film more of a realistic feel (since most terrorists aren't known until they're caught or killed), it somewhat hurts the film.

    While such anonymity does add tension due to that "unknown" factor, drama usually works best when the protagonist faces an equally strong and identifiable antagonist, and this film lacks in providing ample amounts of that.

    Although Zwick was able to pull that off in "Glory" (where the enemy was the Confederate Army but the conflict emanated from characters working on the same "team"), such tactics are less successful here. Despite the star-powered cast, their solid and generally good performances, and the decent premise, the film never quite manages to fire on all cylinders. Whereas it's easy to identify the conflict between the FBI agent, the CIA operative and the military general, there's something lacking regarding such matters.

    That's not to say that the performances are bad or unbelievable. Denzel Washington ("He Got Game," "Fallen") is as good as ever and delivers a solid take on his character -- eliciting a believable intensity the audience completely and easily buys into.

    Bruce Willis ("Armageddon," the "Die Hard" films), while not playing a character that's much removed from most he's played in the past, is good in the role and delivers what's expected from him. Annette Bening's ("The American President," "Bugsy") performance, on the other hand, often comes across as enigmatic as the character she portrays. While she's most likely playing the character properly, the end result is that the role doesn't come off as well-defined. Supporting performances, including that from Tony Shalhoub ("Big Night," TV's "Wings"), are also decent.

    Nonetheless, the film never manages to get out of second gear. Although it's easy enough to watch, it never quite takes off and certainly doesn't reach the level nor intensity of Zwick's earlier efforts, "Glory" and "Courage Under Fire."

    Somewhat emitting the feel of a well-conceived and executed, but truncated TV mini-series, the film just lacks that certain cinematic oomph needed to stand out on the big screen. While clearly not a bad film by any means, it's overall blandness undermines the compelling story it's trying to tell. We give "The Siege" a 6.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Violence is extreme with several terrorist attacks that kill many people, along with a few more limited, but still lethal acts, and the results of both are occasionally quite bloody (including a woman who's missing part of her arm). Such scenes and several others also present some tense moments.

    Profanity is also extreme with 20+ "f" words accompanied by an assortment of others, and the sex/nudity category gets a moderate rating due to implied and thermographically seen encounters, along with brief nudity.

    Bad attitudes are also extreme (the terrorists killing people), but some may also take offense to the film's use of Arabs as the villains (although not all of them are portrayed that way). Beyond all of that, however, the remaining categories don't have much -- if any -- in the way of major objectionable content. Even so, you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness.

  • Samir smokes what looks like a joint. We then see that he and Elise are drinking wine.
  • Hubbard's team has drinks in a bar as do others in the background.
  • We see several news shots of victims of terrorist attacks, and some of them are bloody.
  • We see blood on the windshield of a car after several people are shot inside.
  • Blood runs from Hubbard's nose and ear after a bus explosion wounds him. Later, he gets a nose bleed that runs down his face.
  • Several terrorists who've been shot are bloody.
  • After a terrorist bombing at a theater, we see several bloody, wounded people, including a woman with a bloody stump where part of her arm used to be.
  • Via a small surveillance camera, Hubbard and his team see a pool of blood on the floor next to a victim of more terrorist activity.
  • Hubbard shoots a man who's consequently bloody.
  • Hubbard has some blood on his face after a skirmish.
  • After we hear the sounds of a man being tortured and then a gunshot, we Devereaux coming from a room with a somewhat bloody towel.
  • Two more people who've been shot are quite bloody as are Hubbard's hands as he tries to help one of them.
  • Some viewers may see the film having Arabs as the terrorists as having both types of attitude (and one person refers to them as "towel heads"), but the film doesn't portray all Arabs this way.
  • The terrorists obviously have extreme cases of both.
  • Elise has some of both for helping fund foreign terrorist activities, and Devereaux also has both for taking foreign policy into his own hands, using inhumane methods to get witnesses to talk, and detaining all young Arab men in internment camps.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may be tense to some viewers.
  • Hubbard and his team report to several "live" terrorist scenes -- two on separate buses, another in a schoolroom -- where they must contend with the terrorists.
  • Intercut with Hubbard and Elise in Washington, we watch a van loaded with explosives driving through New York.
  • A terrorist threatens to shoot a woman and then holds his gun to her as Hubbard and Frank enter. A standoff then follows with the woman yelling for them to shoot the man. The woman then grabs the man, he shoots her, and Hubbard and Frank shoot him. Both the woman and the terrorist die from their wounds.
  • Hubbard and his team have a gun standoff with Devereaux and his team with each ready to shoot the other.
  • Handguns/Machine guns/Explosives: Used to threaten, wound, or kill many people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Sh*t faced," "Sucker," "Smart ass," "Towel heads" (disparaging remark about Arabs), and "Sand nigger" (how Frank refers to himself in regards to how he thinks the government sees him).
  • A captured terrorist spits in Elise's face.
  • Although highly unlikely, some troubled teens may get the idea for terrorist activities from this film.
  • A bus suddenly explodes.
  • A moderate amount of suspenseful music occurs in several scenes.
  • None.
  • At least 21 "f" words (1 used sexually), 15 "s" words, 1 slang term for male genitals ("pr*ck"), 4 asses, 3 damns, 3 hells, and 1 use each of "G-damn," Oh God" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • After they kiss, we see Elise and Samir on a bed, and then see very brief and only partial glimpses showing that's he's fully nude, implying that they had sex (a comment about "f*cking" is also made). We then see a thermal display of the two of them having sex (from a distance) as viewed by Hubbard and Frank on some sort of small screen (that shows their bodies represented by varying levels of heat).
  • Devereaux says that Elise "wouldn't know a sheik from a prophylactic of the same name."
  • A captured terrorist apparently sits nude tied to a chair, but nothing can be seen.
  • Hubbard lights up a cigarette and then uses it to subtly threaten a witness before finally putting it in the man's mouth.
  • Elise smokes once, and some miscellaneous characters also smoke (cigarettes and cigars).
  • Frank must deal with his son being in an internment camp.
  • Terrorism abroad and on domestic soil, and how to deal with it should it happen more frequently.
  • Whether it's okay or not to use a certain small group of people (in this case, Arabs) as the villains in a movie and whether that's bad for the larger group to which they belong.
  • A car carrying a sheik is ambushed and rounds of machine gun fire are blasted into it, killing several people inside (we don't see the actual shooting). The car then explodes.
  • A suspect Hubbard and his team are chasing knocks down several people while trying to escape.
  • FBI agents break down a door and aim their weapons at people inside.
  • A bus explodes, killing many people onboard (more than 25), sending debris flying everywhere, and mildly wounding Hubbard.
  • Hubbard subtly threatens a witness with a lit cigarette.
  • Frank violently elbows Samir in the face.
  • A terrorist opens a pizza box, it explodes and FBI agents break through his door. Two other terrorists then shoot at the agents, who return a great deal of machine gun fire resulting in all three terrorists being killed.
  • Although not seen, a terrorist bombing kills and injures many people at a theater.
  • Hubbard and his team arrive at a scene where, via a surveillance camera, they spot a wounded or dead person. Taking advantage of a distraction, Hubbard bursts through the door and shoots the terrorist, killing him.
  • A huge van bomb explodes, destroys an entire building and kills six hundred people (we only see the aftermath).
  • Elise smacks Samir.
  • During an arrest, a terrorist sets off a grenade that explodes. The military then opens fire on the building with machine guns and rockets, presumably killing most everyone inside.
  • We hear a terrorist screaming in pain as Devereaux's men torture him, and we then hear a gunshot, suggesting that he's been executed.
  • A terrorist threatens to shoot a woman and then holds his gun to her as Hubbard and Frank enter. A standoff then follows with the woman yelling for them to shoot the man. The woman then grabs the man, he shoots her, and Hubbard and Frank shoot him. Both the woman and the terrorist die from their wounds.

  • Reviewed October 15, 1998

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