Marital law is declared in New York City when terrorist attacks rain on the city following the abduction of a Muslim religious leader.
America is a country that until recently didn't know a great deal about terrorism. Before the World Trade Center and Oklahoma bombings, American soil was thought to be sacrosanct. That's certainly the way FBI agent Anthony "Hub" Hubbard (Washington) feels in Ed Zwick's clever, provocative thriller. Now Hubbard, and everyone else is facing up to the fact that a political Arab faction is out to take on New York City.
It begins with a hoax and very quickly escalates to an exploding bus and an attack on FBI headquarters. Hub and partner Frank Haddad (Shalhoub) are on the case, finding themselves in bed - metaphorically speaking - with CIA operative Elise Kraft (Bening). Proving itself singularly ill-equipped to deal with such a situation, the government orders the military in - in the form of no nonsense, it-doesn't-matter-if-your-hair's-going-if-you're-in-the-army Bruce Willis as General William Devereaux. Soon, all Arab-Americans are interned in the local basketball stadium and the city that never sleeps is now not sleeping because of the racket all those tanks are making. With New York under martial law, Hubbard must find the bombers before they strike again.
The Siege, running with the extremely provocative tag line "Freedom is history", managed to create all sorts of racial angst when it opened in America. The truth is that yes, the film does rely on your all-purpose rent-an-Arab villain, but Zwick and co. are at pains within the film itself to point out all sides of the situation, showing the injustice of the actions taken in the movie and putting everything correctly in context. And none of this obscures the fact that The Siege is a great urban thriller, a movie that understands the pulse of a city and its environs, that uses its locations to emphasise the tension and paranoia of its plot. It's helped, of course, by a superb cast: Washington is simply one of the best screen actors around and knows better than most how to command any scene he's in; Bening is less annoying than usual; and Willis, who always ups his game when he knows he's in good company, is superb. Best of all however is Tony Shalhoub, who's rapidly proving himself to be just about the most useful character actor in town.
The Siege may well be based on a huge "what if?" premise, but it's smart, taut and knows exactly what the hell it's doing. And it does it well.
Great urban thriller