The Siege was made and released in 1998, a little less than three years before the 9/11 attacks. There are some things about this film you should know before you decide to see it, if you haven’t already. The film depicts a series of Islamic fundamentalist groups carrying out a series of terrorist attacks in New York City. While none of the plots mirror the actual events of 9/11, there is enough imagery here that you might wish to avoid if you are one of those persons who are still quite sensitive to those horrifically real images. The images here are quite realistic and might be hard to take, particularly for those of you who lost loved ones or witnessed the attack firsthand.
With that said, Fox makes a very unfortunate choice on the back case description of the film. It touts the film of being “eerily prescient” of the 9/11 attacks three years later. It’s simply not true. First of all, it was not anyone’s intent in this film to make some kind of bold prediction. These guys were simply trying to make an action thriller. That it might be more thoughtful than most does not mean that it was intended as any dire warning that went unheeded. In a bit of irony, the film was severely criticized by the group CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations). They were appalled that the filmmakers would suggest that terrorists from the Islamic world would think of using their sacred beliefs as a motivation for such destruction. Again this wasn’t a new prediction. The Twin Towers themselves had been the subject of an Islamic fundamentalist attack years before this film was made. CAIR was merely putting out the line they felt they had to, and the film used a profile that was in no way groundbreaking or “eerily prescient”. The mistake we make with such statements is the myth that 9/11 was somehow the beginning of this whole Jihad thing. It certainly was not. To fault or credit the filmmakers with this idea is ludicrous. The film also correctly makes the point that these actions, just as the real ones, were not representative of the Islamic world has a whole. Most stand against such action, even if they don’t do so publicly and loudly enough. While you might blame them for their silence, and I often have, one has to realize that they are paralyzed by the same fear that the terrorists intended for us. When the Pope remarked that there was a “history of violent tendency” within the Muslim community, the radicals attempted to prove him wrong by bombing Catholic churches and through the brutal torture and murder of nuns. That showed us how nonviolent they were, didn’t it? But, again, these people were just a small number from a relatively peaceful people, many of whom have fought and died to protect this country. The film makes that point as well, and it should not be ignored when handing out the politically correct admonishments.
Finally, on the 9/11 subject, the biggest place this film gets it wrong, if we’re looking at it as some kind of talisman for 9/11, is the American response. The film predicts a domestic military nightmare. It fails to take into account the tremendous American spirit and the heroism and unity the event brought out in the citizens of New York. The film would have you believe that, save for a few exceptions, morale would fall apart and Americans would quickly descend into an anarchist mob out for vengeance on every Arab they could get their hands on. For the most part the opposite was true. Were there exceptions? Certainly there were the few bad apples, but like the terrorists compared to their community of faith, these instances were also insignificant portions of the population. If you absolutely MUST look at this film the way Fox asks you to on the box, you can’t fail to conclude that actually they got it very wrong. But that’s not what this movie was attempting to do.
The film begins with a bus bombing in New York City. No one was injured, and the victims were merely blasted with blue paint. But FBI Agent Hubbard (Washington) believes this was a trial run and that more was to come. He’s proven correct as New York withstands a series of brutal attacks, each killing hundreds. Hubbard and his Muslim partner Frank Haddad (Shalhoub) are on the trail of the separate cells that are working in harmony to bring about the string of attacks. The two must deal with CIA Agent Elise Kraft (Bening) who may or may not be on the right side of things here. She’s sleeping with one of the subjects that she is supposed to be getting intel from. When the attacks appear unstoppable, The President declares martial law in New York City and brings in the military. The force is led by reluctant Major General Devereaux (Willis) who warms to the task and closes down on the city with an iron fist. Arabs are rounded up into World War II style internment camps, including the son of Agent Haddad. Hubbard and his FBI team must find the last cell before the most devastating attack yet can be carried out. His problem is that after butting heads with the Major General, he and his team are on the run from the troops.
This is a tight cast that wears the parts well. Washington is pretty much the character we’ve seen him play almost every time. It works here. He’s the voice of conscience, a necessary cry in the darkness when madness takes over completely. Tony Shalhoub is here in pre-Monk form taking on the role of an Arab with the same ease with which he was an Italian in Wings. He shows a better range here than I’ve seen in any of his other roles. If the film had been more successful, it could have been a breakout part. Instead that came a couple of years later in a cable television show. Annette Bening is somewhat of a weak link here, but that’s likely due to that fact that her character is so weakly written. I never could get a take on her, and perhaps that was intentional, but it doesn’t allow me to have the sympathy I’ll need in the climax for her actions. Finally, Bruce Willis isn’t given a ton of screen time here, but he manages it well.
The Siege is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an inferior MPEG-2 codec. Remember that this is the same thing we’ve been using on standard DVD’s for the last decade or so. On top of that the bit rate is a very weak average of around 13 mbps, barely above a solid standard definition DVD. I’m not sure I understand this. Certainly the picture is clean and actually quite detailed, but no more so than a good DVD transfer through a sweet upconvert system. It’s the most surprising image I’ve encountered on Blu-ray to date, and I hope does not become “eerily prescient” of how Fox intends to handle the format going forward. At least the print is clean of defects. Black levels are pretty good. Again it’s a rather nice picture, just not the high definition standard I hope to see set in the future.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is pretty solid. I was impressed with sub levels and sound placement overall. There’s a ton of dialog here, and it works well. I did have a few problems, however, with balance. There are times you need to adjust the volume as some of the louder segments are not quite properly mastered with the overall level. It’s an inconvenience to say the least.
When you put aside the trauma of this film viewed post 9/11, it succeeds at being exactly what it originally intended to be. It’s a fine action thriller with your important ticking clock and devastating stakes on the line. Inside of that parameter, you’ll find it a very enjoyable film. Yes, I said enjoyable. As hard as it might be, made all the more harder with Fox’s own actions, this movie needs to be viewed within its own world. Don’t try to read so much into it, and you might discover a nice gem of a film inside. The film explores a lot of gray area and topics that are huge years after 9/11. The concept of torture is addressed here. There’s a lot to take in and a lot to think about with this one. “It’s easy to tell the difference between right and wrong. What’s hard is choosing the wrong that’s more right.”