Rated R - Running time: 1:56 - Released 11/6/98

As action movies go, Edward Zwick's The Siege is one of the more intelligent ones I've seen lately. Its premise, the threat of large-scale terrorism in the USA, may have been considered unlikely a few years ago, but since the Oklahoma City bombing, it has come to the forefront of our national consciousness as a very real possibility. And the story, the debut effort of Lawrence Wright, paints an unsettling picture of how Americans might react if this threat came from a group that has been vilified since the days of Khomeni: the Islamic peoples.

Denzel Washington, who has worked with Zwick before on Glory and Courage Under Fire, slips back comfortably into his oft repeated role as the good-guy straight-arrow, Anthony 'Hub' Hubbard, an FBI agent assigned to investigate a terrorist bombing on a crowded New York City bus. His partner is Frank Haddad (Wings's Tony Shalhoub), who is a Palestinian-American. Frank serves as interpreter in Hub's negotiations with the terrorists. And as if Hub doesn't have enough stress, a CIA agent who calls herself Elise (Annette Bening) shows up and starts accurately predicting what's going to happen next. She won't reveal why she knows so much, so Hub refuses to let her help with the case, saying that the FBI has the situation in hand.

But her information proves too valuable for him to resist. When Hub presses her, he finds that her real name is Sharon Bridger, and she is closely associated with some of the terrorists, having helped them get into the country for what she thought were legitimate purposes. So she begins to act as a go-between for Hub and her Moslem friend Samir Nazhde (Sami Bouajila). We find that the terrorism springs from the imprisonment of Sheik Ahmed Bin Talal, a terrorist leader in the Mideast, by the US Army under the command of General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis). The New York terrorists want him released and will not stop the bombings until he is.

After the situation continues to escalate, the military is called in to enact martial law, with Devereaux in charge. He adopts a warlike stance in dealing with the situation, sealing off the city and detaining all young adult male Palestinians in a football stadium fitted out with high fences and barbed wire. The trouble is, one of the detainees is Frank's son. So now, Hub must deal with 1) his partner quitting the bureau in a rage, 2) a CIA agent who may or may not be friendly with the criminals, and 3) an Army general bent on finding the terrorists through merciless persecution of innocent people.

Zwick, whose resumé contains an eclectic collection of film genres, has done an adequate job of keeping the tension high and at the same time maintaining a tight, intelligent story we can all follow. The "FBI versus CIA versus Army" scheme is one we've seen before, but it is handled more intelligently here than in last year's The Peacemaker, for instance. Some of the acting is a bit over the top — especially Willis's — and the relationship between Hub and Sharon could use some work. But all in all, The Siege is a high-intensity thriller that keeps us interested and doesn't rely solely on explosions and gunfire to spark our interest. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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