The Siege


Hollywood as an oracle? Three years before  9/11/2001, Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington have to bear the consequences of such attacks on America and have to trace the terror cells.

The Siege shows us what might happen if an American city becomes the target of international terrorists, even so it was produced in 1998. This is not a unique motion picture scenario, but Zwick's approach is new. Typically, this scenario is used as a springboard for an action movie -- an opportunity for 007 to save the world. But not here. Despite one early car chase and the presence of Bruce Willis, this is not that kind of movie. The Siege is a thriller, to be sure, but it's a thinking person's thriller, where pyrotechnics give way to plot, character development replaces fight scenes, and adrenaline does not dodge intelligence.


à Video - setting and background are introduced - 03.30 min - the beginning

As I said - The main setting and the background are introduced. When the United States military, under the command of General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis), takes prisoner suspected terrorist Sheik Ahmed Bin Talal, Islamic fundamentalists across the world take notice. The only warning the FBI receives is a single, cryptic message: 'Release him.'  Then the hell breaks out in New York. A bus is destroyed, killing 25 civilians. A Broadway theater is bombed. Hostages are taken at a school. And the persons in charge are debating about the future and their next steps to build up safety again for American citizens. 

à Video - rising tension which supports the action - 58.25 min - the debate

As the wave of terrorist activity goes on, the President must consider if the only way to save the city and break the grip of fear is to declare martial law and let one division under command of General Deveraux solve the terror issue in Brooklyn - to search and destroy the last terror cell at all costs.

Hubbard develops an uneasy alliance with CIA agent Elise Kraft / Sharon Bridger, whose agency knows more about the situation than they're willing to reveal. Yet, as the twin threats of a catastrophic terrorist action and the implementation of martial law grow greater, Hubbard finds that time is against him.

à Video - climax - 1.24.54 - Sharon Bridger reveals her story to Anthony Hubbard

There he gets top secret information on the background of Sharon's mission in Iraq. At the end, the invisible enemy gets a face. The last terror cell is Samir himself, a palestinian university professor, who was in Iraq with Sharon and the Sheik and should overthrow Saddam Hussein together with them. It's a character one can feel sympathy for. This turns the light on the american foreign policy which could be seen as one source of the terror. As long as the USA needed them, they've gotten financial support but later on they have been abandoned - and to quote Sharon : "It's not that we sold them out exactly. We just didn't help them any more.They were slaughtered.",  and Samir wants to fight for his people and for his cause.

Character analysis

Anthony 'Hub' Hubbard who is played by Denzel Washington, is the head of the joint FBI/NYPD terrorism task force, and is the man charged with keeping New York City safe. As an officer of the court, his job is the apprehension and prosecution of criminals. He is both heroic and vulnerable, making his character believable and sympathetic rather than superhuman. He operates with an honourable set of rules in mind. He is a masterpiece of an liberal American who applies for freedom of  the individual and and tries to search suspects with legal methods.

Sharon Bridger alias Elise Kraft who is acted by Anette Benning, is a CIA operative, now undercover, with important sources in the Arab-American community and ambiguous ties to the suspects. She has a keen, worldly intellect with a tone of secrecy and during the movie her role gets exposed bit by bit. Her character develops from a minor character at the beginning to a major character during the movie. Her intention, like that of her government's foreign policy, is more complex than Hub's. She has to correct her personal failure - the build up of these terrorists due to help of the CIA. And yet these two are forced to work together, an uneasy alliance, as the incidents of terror threaten the city.

General William Devereaux who is acted by Bruce Willis, is a thoughtful, cautious warrior who well knows the dangers of bringing the army onto the streets of an American city. Although he argues against it, when he's given the unavoidable task of imposing military order he responds as a soldier's must, with unquestioning obedience. With doing so he turns out to be a monster in order to fight monsters, in an attempt to capture the last terrorist cell operating from the borough. Once under his military command, curfews are imposed, house-to-house arrests take place, and an internment camp is created in a former sports stadium for all 'Arab-speaking males including Frank Jr., the son of Hubbard's partner. All in all, he is not really a villain but also not really likeable.

Techniques used to arouse the viewer's interest - Scene analysis

For example, in the film's opening sequence,  the leader of a muslime sect called Sheikh Ahmed Ben Talal (Ahmed Ben Larby) - who, Zwick says, was intentionally modelled on Osama bin Laden - is kidnapped in the Middle East on the orders of General Deveraux because of his suspected involvement in the blowing-up of US military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Significantly, Zwick cuts Talal's kidnapping with extracts from a speech given by President Clinton in which he states that 'America takes care of our own' and that those who bombed the barracks 'must not go unpunished.' The TV extract with Bill Clinton creates an authentic athmosphere for the audience which feels to be within a realistic and plausible action and for post September 11th people - it can be linked to recent speeches given by President George W. Bush.

The next scene combines the religious element with the opening scene and therefor the camera shows praying muslimes, a muezzin which calls out the special melodies from the minaret and in the next moment zooms out of the mosque. The setting has changed from a mid-eastern desert to Brooklyn, New York - where the mosque is present. Hence, it makes clear to the audience that islamic people live deep within the heart of the USA, and thus it creates a certain mood which wants to be created.

One of the reasons that The Siege works so well is that a lot is going on simultaneously, both on the surface and just beneath it. In addition to the FBI's investigation, considerable time is spent exploring the distrustful relationships that exist between various segments of  the army, the FBI, and the CIA which build a kind of a gripping sub-plot and distract the viewer's fixed point of view. This provides also a look at the complexities when so many secrets and lies are involved. But there is no "good and evil" nor "with us or without us", but it rather reflects how hard it can be to cooperate within these different branches.

The Siege and linkings to the post September 11th happenings..

The movie deals with the controversial idea of fighting terrorism and tracing the roots of fundamentalists. During the past two years, we have seen terrorist acts like they are shown in the movie, e.g. the siege of a Moscow theather, bombings in Saudi-Arabia and bus-kidnapping in Israel. And how does the reaction of western countries, especially the USA, look like? The US is acting pretty like the one politician in the debate-scene which I have presented to you earlier. They are still fighting wars without even trying to understand the issue right. Everyone of you hears places like West Bank, Ramallah or Jerusalem in TV every day, which are connected with bombings, terror, violence and suffering in our mind. I want you to remember that it's a very complex topic whith an intense historical, political and religious background which can't be forced with war, concentration camps or lists of  suspected terrorists.

Sources: - quotations of several comments were taken from this site

Vocabulary list


foreign policy                                                                     Außenpolitik

      à the policy of a sovereign state in its interaction with other sovereign states

set                                                  location                        Ort, wo der Film gedreht wurde

(to) dodge                                       to bypass                      etwas umgehen

plot                                                action                           die Handlung

hostage                                           captive                         die Geisel

grip of fear                                      force of anxiety             die Gewalt des Schreckens

(to) declare                                     (to) enact                      erlassen, verfügen

martial law                                                                         das Kriegsrecht

à the law administered by military forces that is invoked by a government in an emergency when the civilian law enforcement agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety

the Sheik                                        also: the Sheikh            der (Öl -)Scheich

implementation                              enforcement                 die Durchführung

apprehension                                  seizure                          die Festnahme

prosecution                                     law enforcement           die Strafverfolgung

suspects (pl.)                                  suspect (singl.)             die Verdächtigen

ambiguous                                      equivocal                      mehrdeutig

ties (pl.)                                          bonds (pl. / chem.)        Bindungen

(to) impose                                     (to) bring in                  einführen

obedience                                       submissive (adj.)           der Gehorsam

curfew                                            closing hour                 die Ausgangssperre

internment camp                            detention camp             das Internierungslager


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