Classic Intel: The Siege - Online Review

'it is difficult to not have a certain amount of respect for its foresight, and for the abnormal level of intelligence this 'standard' vehicle brings to the discourse surrounding the origins of the war on terror'

At the time, in 1998, it is probable that most people who saw The Siege thought of it as little more than just your standard Denzel Washington vehicle. He gets to shout, to be clever and to, eventually, save the day. In many ways then, they were probably right. Looking at it now though, it is difficult to not have a certain amount of respect for its foresight, and for the abnormal level of intelligence this 'standard' vehicle brings to the discourse surrounding the origins of the war on terror.

Indeed, the list of later films which have been arguably better regarded than The Siege but dealt with similar issues in a similar way makes for interesting reading. Edward Zwick's film deals with, amongst other things, the implications of carrying out renditions, essentially kidnapping a suspected terrorist from an unfriendly country and moving him to a country where he can be detained. Also here are at least passing considerations on torture and the illicit ways in which information is extracted from detainees. 2007's Rendition dealt with the titular practice in much greater depth whilst last year's Oscar contender, Zero Dark Thirty, had much to say on torture and information gathering as a whole.

The common denominator of both of those two films though is that they were shot post-9/11, informed and produced out of a desire to understand the before and after events of the largest single terrorist attack on United States soil. Filmed during the early part of 1998, Zwick's screenplay, co-written with Lawrence Wright and Menno Meyjes, predicts, amongst other things, a steadily rising threat against US soil - here represented solely by New York - along with the demonisation of religious groups and even (although again this takes place in a homeland setting) an over-eagerness on the part of the military to deploy offensive tactics and scenarios. Wright claimed, albeit without solid data, that The Siege was the most-rented film in America immediately after the events of 9/11. With the amount it has to say on the matter of homeland security, all said before those events took place, it would be little surprise to discover this as true.

Where the film is let down is in the execution of the script's ideas by Zwick. There's far too much reliance on the fact that very clever government bods and agencies don't talk to one another. Denzel is, of course, the good heart of the film but it's clear that Annette Bening's spook has an alternate agenda from the minute she appears on screen and Bruce Willis' Colonel screams nefarious too. Both are introduced in places they shouldn't be, leaving little doubt of where we're off to.

The final third, which is essentially the Iraq war, transposed to New York, feels a little too fantastical to be true, although taken in line with what films like The House I Live In have to say about suspect profiling, imprisonment and the 'stop and search' policy, perhaps it isn't as far removed from actual events as we might like to think. It wouldn't be the first thing Zwick's film correctly predicted.




The Siege is currently showing on Sky Anytime+ and Sky Go.

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