Monday, June 15, 2009

The Siege: Out on Blu-ray Disc

By David Luhrssen
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Three years before 911, The Siege imagined Islamic suicide bombers bringing down buildings in New York and a repressive response by the U.S. government. Uncanny forecasting? Unlike most Americans, the team that conceived The Siege (out now on Blu-ray) had some sense for the drift of world events. A terrorist strike against the U.S., rationalized as payback for American foreign policy, was already a distinct probability when Clinton sat in the White House. A year into Bush’s first term, it finally happened.

But not precisely as The Siege predicted. The scenario it outlined was more unsettling, in some respects, than the assault launched by bin Laden. The Siege depicted an escalating sequence of attacks on New York targets. The anxiety over what might happen next was heightened because bombs kept going off. If the real 911 had been followed by a series of additional suicide assaults, Bush-Cheney might have imitated the screenplay by proclaiming martial law, sending troops into the streets and setting up Guantanamos in the U.S. for residents of Middle Eastern origin, guilty of crimes or not.

One hopes that if this had happened, a real Special Agent Anthony Hubbard would have risen in the name of truth, justice and the American way. As played by Denzel Washington, the role has begun to look like a forecast of Barack Obama. Washington’s FBI agent is a cool and largely unflappable black professional, well spoken and in charge, a principled achiever, willing to stare down incredible odds. And a general played by Bruce Willis, with his cynical smirk, is a hard man to face down.

Sadly, The Siege, which begins as a well made thriller with an intelligent grasp of geopolitics, winds up muddled, goes crazy, descends into the usual Hollywood hoopla of unbelievable escapes from fiery explosions and impossible Mexican standoffs. The Siege loses its footing in reality during the final half hour, veering between exaggerated pessimism and exaggerated optimism over America’s ability to find the right response in the face of determined enemies.

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