Volume 92, Issue 39
Thursday, November 12, 1998
not too late to reconsider football too
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
The American myth goes under Siege
Photo by Bill Foley
WHATCHA TALKIN' ABOUT, WILLIS? Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis come face to face in the latest political action movie, The Siege.
By Mike Murphy
In all fairness, Edward Zwick's The Siege is based on an interesting premise. While this film certainly isn't lacking in the banality department, it does attempt a novelesque twist on the "FBI battles terrorists" genre and raises difficult questions about terrorism, government and American morality.
The twist is this. When the FBI finds itself powerless to suppress a terrorist group which is ravaging New York City, the United States government is faced with the undesirable possibility of having to declare a state of emergency and send in the military.
In short, it's the worst thing since the FLQ crisis. And Bill Clinton doesn't know if he should read the Riot Act or not. The dilemma poses some interesting problems and should provoke the audience to consider whether a state can ever justifiably restrict the rights and freedoms of its people. But when you get right down to it, it's nothing that hasn't been discussed ad nauseam in 10th grade history classes.
What The Siege is really asking (in a typically, pompous, self-satisfied American way) is whether the virtuous and enlightened ethical character of the good ol' USA could ever conceivably, be corrupted. Will head FBI agent Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) uphold and protect the democratic values of constitutional justice and apple pie or will America give into the seductive martial brutality of their top general, William Devereaux (Bruce Willis)?
Granted, as a Hollywood blockbuster, The Siege deserves credit for stooping humbly to inspect how firm the foundations of American democracy really are. However, when the film stands up again at the end, the answers it has to offer are insulting in their simplicity.
In typical fashion, the resolution is far too easy, clear-cut and of course, reassuring to all those U.S. moviegoers who were squirming in their seats. Like most mainstream Hollywood productions, The Siege renders its ethical picture in stark black and white, while the ambiguous and often unsettling greys are carefully omitted.
Ideological significance aside, this is a well-produced film and does carry its star power to likely do some serious damage at the box office. Washington turns in his usual solid performance, as the humourless, arrow-straight Fed raised on a steady diet of love for God and country. Sure, the character is painfully one-dimensional, but Washington manages to infuse the role with some much-needed fire and vigour.
Opposite Washington, the irrepressible Willis is cast in the role of America's eloquent and thoughtful top army man who shrewdly recognizes the dangers of sending troops into the streets of New York and cautions his government against it. When Devereaux's military dogs are eventually let loose, he goes from poetic warrior to sadistic tyrant, using everything from torture to summary execution to eliminate the city's terrorist problem. Willis is definitely more at home in the action genre than he seems here in a political thriller, but he comes through with a passable performance.
As a mysterious CIA agent with strong links to the Arab terrorist community, Annette Bening also gives a good effort, but stumbles often over poorly written dialogue.
Unfortunately, big name actors and slick production value can't save this film from being what it is one more example of Hollywood cinema shamelessly perpetuating and reaffirming the American myth. If you like your morality simple-minded and can stomach a lot of feel-good Yankee patriotism, then wage an attack on your local movie theatre.
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