Monday, August 23, 2010

The Siege

Not at all a good movie, by any means. The dialogue is miserable; Denzel is OK, but kind of coasting, Annette Bening is shrill and one-dimensional (she really can do better... cf., The Kids Are All Right), Bruce Willis is simply horrendous (and I say this as a fan), Tony Shalhoub isn't half-bad, but what's with that accent Mr. Monk?

Still, the film is worth seeing given everything that happened in the years after its release (1998). The plot, which one would have called contrived and offensive at the time, features terrorist attacks on New York City carried out by Islamic extremists, racist profiling and overreaction by the government, blowback from CIA shenanigans in the Middle East... it's all remarkably prescient. Occasional glimpses of the twin towers between the explosions add to the deep sense of unease that comes with hindsight.

Ultimately the movie feels a bit dated because the government's bad cop is a rogue military man in the Ollie North mold, rather than, say, a more up-to-date villain such as an ignorant and ideological president or a Machiavellian vice president.

Still, when all is said and done, the movie made me just a little proud of how my compatriots handled themselves after 9-11. In The Siege, federal overreaction takes the form of Army tanks in the streets and the rounding up and incarceration of all the young Muslim males in NYC. Yeah, the unnecessary war, the torture, the domestic spying that actually occurred were (are?) evil, really evil, but face it, domestically we could have done a lot worse... and may yet do so...


  1. I mostly agree with your review but I would like to point out some contradictions. You point out the movie was made in 1998 and then complain about it being dated. Of course it's dated, 1998 in movie time is forever, it's pre Matrix and that movie is old now. Secondly, what you say makes it dated (lack of a modern villian) is something of an unfair criticism. For a movie that practically manages to predict the future (as you point out) how much can you gripe about it not predicting perfectly? On other notes, I do agree Ms. Benning can do better and that Denzel is coasting. I don't think Bruce is awful, just mediocre. And Shalhoub has an accent because his character is Lebanese. But all in all you're right, this is a pretty good movie that manages to be more relevant today than it's makers probably predicted.

  2. Terry Gross recently interviewed the screenwriter, Lawrence Wright (

    Lawrence Wright won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 book, "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."

    That same year, he premiered his one-man show, "My Trip to al-Qaida, in which he talked about the process of writing the book and the moral dilemmas he faced dealing with sources who were affiliated with al-Qaida and other jihadists groups.

    Now, Wright's one-man show has been adapted into an HBO documentary, directed by Alex Gibney. That film, "My Trip to al-Qaida,"