The Siege (1998 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Edward Zwick|
|Story by||Lawrence Wright|
|Music by||Graeme Revell|
|Edited by||Steven Rosenblum|
|Box office||$116.7 million|
The Siege is a 1998 American action thriller film directed by Edward Zwick. The film is about a fictional situation in which terrorist cells have made several attacks on New York City. The film stars Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Tony Shalhoub, and Bruce Willis as the U.S. Army Major General William Devereaux.
Following the bombing of an American military installation in the Middle East (the film shows footage from the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing), the U.S. government orchestrates the capture of the mastermind believed to be behind the attack, Sheikh Ahmed bin Talal. In New York City FBI Special Agent Anthony Hubbard (Washington) and his Lebanese-American partner Frank Haddad (Shalhoub) are told of a hijacked bus, fully loaded with passengers and containing an explosive device. The bomb turns out to be a paint bomb and the terrorists manage to escape. The FBI receives demands to release the sheikh.
Hubbard eventually comes into conflict with CIA agent Elise Kraft (Bening). Hubbard takes a terrorist suspect into custody and arrests Kraft. Afterwards another terrorist threat is made and an MTA bus is bombed, though the children on-board are permitted to leave before the bus is destroyed. When the FBI captures a person of interest named Samir Nazhde he admits to signing the visa application of one of the suicide bombers in the course of signing many applications for student visas in his job as a lecturer. However, Kraft insists that Samir is not a terrorist and that his continued freedom is vital to the investigation.
The FBI eventually identifies and storms a safehouse belonging to terrorists who are associated with the bombings. However, days later, new terror cells launch more devastating attacks, starting with the bombing of the New Victory Theater in Times Square during an evening performance. This is followed days later by a hostage situation at an elementary school (which is resolved when Hubbard shoots the hostage taker). Shortly afterwards, a suicide bomber drives a van full of explosives into the lobby of One Federal Plaza, the location of the FBI's New York City field office, resulting in over 600 fatalities.
In spite of objections, the President of the United States declares martial law and armored vehicles and elements of the U.S. Army's 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, under Major General William Devereaux (Willis), occupies and seals off Brooklyn in an effort to find the remaining terrorist cells. Subsequently all young males of Arab descent, including Haddad's son Frank, Jr., are rounded up and detained in Downing Stadium. Haddad resigns in protest. New Yorkers stage violent demonstrations against the army and the racial profiling of the Arabs and the Army fights to maintain control. There are reports of Army killings. When pressed by the White House Chief of Staff (Chip Zien) if the United States is holding the Sheikh, General Devereaux denies it.
Hubbard and Kraft, now revealed to be an agent named Sharon Bridger, continue their investigation and capture a suspect, Tariq Husseini (Salama). Using torture, Devereaux shoots and kills Husseini (off screen) in the course of the interrogation. Then Bridger tells Hubbard that Husseini knew nothing of value because of the principle of compartmentalized information and, sickened, she finally tells Hubbard what she knows. It is revealed that she herself provided training and support to rebels opposed to Saddam Hussein's regime, working with Samir to recruit and train the followers of the Sheikh. After the United States cut their funding and left them exposed, she took pity on the few of them who had not yet been slaughtered by Hussein's forces, and arranged for them to escape to the United States, ultimately leading to the present situation as they turn their covert and bomb making skills on the country that now holds their Sheikh. She and Hubbard compel Samir to arrange a meeting with the final terrorist cell. In a discreet meeting with the White House Chief of Staff Hubbard is finally informed of the Sheikh's apprehension, which was carried out at General Devereaux's personal initiative. Hubbard convinces Haddad that he needs his help, and Haddad returns to the FBI.
A multi-ethnic peace march demonstrates against the occupation of Brooklyn. As the march is getting under way Hubbard and Haddad arrive at the meeting place, but Bridger and Samir have already left. Samir reveals to Bridger that he constitutes the final cell while in another sense he says, "there will never be a last cell." He straps a bomb to his body which he intends to detonate among the marchers. Hubbard and Haddad arrive in time to stop him from leaving, but Samir shoots Bridger in the heart as she struggles to stop him. Hubbard and Haddad kill Samir, but despite their best efforts he and Haddad can only watch as Bridger succumbs to her wounds after managing to recite certain lines of the second half of The Lord's Prayer and concluding with "Insha'Allah" – the Arabic phrase "God Willing."
Hubbard, Haddad, and other FBI agents raid Devereaux's headquarters to make an arrest for the torture and murder of Husseini, as well as his role in kidnapping the Sheikh in violation of the Logan Act. Devereaux insists that under the War Powers Resolution the authority vested in him by the President supersedes that of the court which issued the arrest warrant. He then commands his soldiers to aim their assault rifles at the agents, resulting in a tense standoff. Hubbard reminds Devereaux that the civil liberties and human rights which he took from Husseini are what all his predecessors have fought and perished for. Devereaux finally submits and is arrested. Martial law ends, and the detainees, including Haddad's son, are freed.
- Denzel Washington as FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Anthony "Hub" Hubbard
- Annette Bening as CIA officer Elise Kraft / Sharon Bridger
- Bruce Willis as U.S. Army Major General William Devereaux
- Tony Shalhoub as FBI Special Agent Frank Haddad
- Aasif Mandvi as Khalil Saleh
- Amro Salama as Tariq Husseini
- Sami Bouajila as Samir Nazhde
- Ahmed Ben Larby as Sheik Akhmed bin Talal
- Lianna Pai as FBI Agent Tina Osu
- Mark Valley as FBI Agent Mike Johanssen
- David Proval as FBI Agent Danny Sussman
- Lance Reddick as FBI Agent Floyd Rose
- Lisa Lynn Masters reporter
The film received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes awards the film a score of 45% based on 60 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film 2 1⁄2 stars out of four, writing that director Edward Zwick does a good job with crowd scenes, but criticizing it as clumsy.
The film grossed $40,981,289 in North America and $75,691,623 in other territories on a budget of $70 million.
When the film opened, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee came out against the film. Its spokesman Hussein Ibish said "The Siege is extremely offensive. It's beyond offensive. We're used to offensive, that's become a daily thing. This is actually dangerous." He thought it was "Insidious and incendiary" because it "reinforces stereotypes that lead to hate crimes." Ibish acknowledged that Arab terrorists did, in fact, bomb the World Trade Center in 1993, but said that Arab and Islamic groups are upset by "the very strong equation between Muslim religious practices and terrorism. ...[Thanks to this film] Every time someone goes through the Muslim ablution, the ritual washing of hands everybody does before they pray five times a day, that image is the announcement to the viewer of the presence of violence." Echoing such criticism the Council on American-Islamic Relations protested the insinuation that "Muslims have total disregard for human life." The groups were "faxing and calling news organizations on a regular basis" to voice their concerns.
Director Edward Zwick had met with Arab Americans, who suggested that the story be changed to mirror the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, when Arabs were immediately assumed responsible. This idea was rejected. Zwick noted that The Siege's villains also include members of the U.S. government, and dismissed the criticism, saying:
"Anytime you talk about issues that touch on religion of any kind, you can anticipate this kind of reaction. Should we only present every group as paragons and monoliths of virtue? The movie inspires to engender this kind of dialogue. I happen to come from the school that thinks that movies should not only make you uncomfortable, they might make you think. …You can anticipate any kind of reaction in these times in which sensitivity seems very high in the culture. I have a friend who says, if you've not offended somebody, you're a nobody. …How does it feel to be a lightning rod? It gets the blood going. I think it's better than being universally ignored. In a culture where there seems to be so much to talk about, it's good to be talked about."
"What the movie is most deeply about – it's about our own latent possibilities of repression, stereotyping and prejudice," says Zwick. "To see Americans rounded up in the streets, to see Americans put into stadiums, to see people held without habeas corpus – to have their rights violated in such a way is such a chilling and just terrifying thing to see – that is what one takes away, I believe, from this film."
In a September 2007 interview, screenwriter Lawrence Wright attributed the film's failure at the box office to Muslim and Arab protests at theaters playing the film, but also claimed that it was the most rented movie in America after the September 11 attacks.
Scholar Alexandra Campbell quoted from former Guantanamo captive Tarek Dergoul when she compared the fictional demonization and extrajudicial abuse of Muslims in the film and the abuse that Dergoul described in his first post-repatriation interview.
On July 12, 2006 the magazine Mother Jones provided excerpts from the transcripts of a selection of the Guantanamo detainees. Shokuri was one of the detainees profiled. According to the article his transcript contained the following comment:
- [T]he only way I know the United States is through movies from Hollywood or through cartoons. I’m a big fan of a lot of their singers…. [T]he first time I saw an American soldier was at Kandahar Air Base…. When I first saw myself in Kandahar, it was like I was in a cinema or a movie. I saw a 1996 movie called The Siege. The movie was about terrorists carrying out terrorist attacks in the United States…. [In the movie] the CIA and FBI were not successful in finding that terrorist group and the United States Army interfered and gathered all the people of Arabic descent and put them in a land cage or camp just like it happened in Kandahar. I was shocked, thinking, “Am I in that movie or on a stage in Hollywood?”… Sometimes I laugh at myself and say, “When does that movie end?”
- "Caught in the Middle". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-24.
- "The Siege (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2010-12-01.
- Ebert, Roger (November 6, 1998). "The Siege Movie Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group.
- Wilson, John (2007). "Nineteenth Annual Razzies (1998)". The Official Razzie Movie Guide. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 9780446510080.
- "The Siege (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved January 4, 2010.
- "Muslims feel under siege from Hollywood". November 5, 1998.
- "Islamic Council Protests Timing of 'The Siege'". Los Angeles Times. August 25, 1998. Retrieved 2010-10-24.
- "Director Ed Zwick defends 'The Siege'". CNN NewsStand. November 10, 1998. Archived from the original on January 4, 2010. Retrieved January 4, 2010.
- Martin, David (September 9, 2007). "Reporting The Bin Laden Beat". CBS News. Archived from the original on January 4, 2010. Retrieved January 4, 2010.
- Alexandra Campbell (2010). Keith Hayward, Mike Presdee, ed. Framing Crime: Cultural Criminology and the Image. Routledge. pp. 107–108. ISBN 9780203880753. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Dave Gilson (2006-07-12). "Why Am I in Cuba?". Mother Jones (magazine). Archived from the original on 2006-07-19. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
Detainees could respond directly to the accusations made against them and were assigned to an officer who shepherded them through the process. However, they did not have access to lawyers and often could not fully examine the government’s claims, particularly if those claims were based on classified information.