"The Siege" Review
© 1998 Fontaine L.
- spoilers -

"The Siege" is a hard-to-categorize film. You can't say it's a popcorn movie, because its special effects are actually a part of the plot: in other popcorn movies, the special effects IS the plot. Doesn't quite qualify as a detective movie either, since the detectives in the film spend most of their time responding to incidents rather than investigating (with the exception, of course, of the brilliant coup towards the end of the movie); not an action movie either, because there's a lot less action going on here than in the other action movies. Of course Bruce Willis's appearance and performance automatically disqualifies this film from being Oscar-caliber drama (psychological, sociological, the whole deal). Rather, this film is a semi-successful melting pot of many of these things. There are some intense action scenes and some not-so-intense ones; some scenes utterly devoid of meaning and some that cling to you for a long while.

The film's strongest point is its shrewd tension buildup, something you don't get that often in your everyday Jerry Bruckheimer film (I say that having just seen "Enemy of the State"). There are some truly surprising twists and turns, with the last one being the best, charged with intense emotion. That one second when you realize who Samir really is is pure movie-going joy. Another surprise that made me (and everyone else) jump was the bus explosion. Even it's inclusion in the trailors didn't prepare me for the sudden explosion at a time of obvious tranquility and compromise. Well done, folks.

There are some pretty strong performances in this film, the best coming from Denzel Washington. He really puts his heart into the character Anthony Hubbard, giving him the desperation and the devotion to make the film work. Annette Benning gives a strong performance (as Sharon/Elise) as well, but I was even more impressed by the work of seasoned actor Tony Shalhoub (Frank) who also appears in the upcoming "A Civil Action" and has had a notable gueststarring role on The X-Files' "Soft Light" episode. He deftly portrays the man of ethnic minority who finds the country he's loyal to suddenly turning against him--a sad story heard too many times in the history of this nation. If one thing ruined this film, it was Bruce Willis's character Demereaux. Although he must exist to represent big government, Willis's performance did not make the character come alive at all. It is as if Willis, with his ubiquitous smirk, was guest- starring as the Jackal. Nothing new here. His smirk (and lack of any other facial expression) worked fine in movies like "Armageddon" and "Die Hard," but not here.

The film is by no means perfect (boy have we heard that line enough times ). It starts off pretty slow, trudges along the way sometimes, and falls prey haplessly to cinematic cliches occasionally. That's unwise, if it was a film not MEANT to have cliches. A shame really, for a movie that could have been really great, an "action" film that has something to say, for once. Nevertheless it presents some valid points, such as where do we draw the line between upholding the absolute law and the taking away of personal freedom and individual rights? When is the government too big for its own good? And what will happen to democracy and the voice of the people then? A poignant question proposed in the film by Washington: "[What if it weren't the Arabs?] What it if were African- Americans, Italians, Jews?" What if it was any one of us? "The Siege" is not the sudden attack of sound and movement that its title suggests it is. It's a gradual infiltration of our mind, the gradual realization that there just might be a chance that something horrifying might be happening to this country. This is a well-timed film in an era of paranoia, when distrust of the military continues to mount; a good history lesson when Ex parte Milligan and the Reconstruction period are just pages in textbooks; a film that doesn't aim for the pleasant experience but rather hits you in the face with brutality. Satisfactory, despite the Clinton jokes.

"The most committed wins."

Rating: B- (First viewing, 11/27/98)

* It's Not a Joke, Damnit - I'm tired of hearing villains uttering this line in the face of obvious doom: "Is this some kind of a joke?"