The Siege: Martial Law Edition – DVD Review

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Edward Zwick


Denzel Washington … Anthony ‘Hub’ Hubbard
Annette Bening … Elise Kraft/Sharon Bridger
Bruce Willis … Major General William Devereaux
Tony Shalhoub … Agent Frank Haddad
Sami Bouajila … Samir Nazhde
Ahmed Ben Larby … Sheik Achmed Bin Talal
Mosleh Mohamed … Muezzin
Lianna Pai … Tina Osu

The Movie

Before September 11, 2001, making a film about terrorism had a much different connotation that it does now. In the movies one could blow up airliners, commit terrorist acts in public places and make Islamic terrorists as villains because the perception was that terrorist events only happened in foreign lands. Americans could shrug off things like the U.S.S Cole bombing at the hands of Muslim radicals because it happened in Yemen much like the terror of the Oklahoma city bombing could be removed from the national consciousness after a few years because it could be traced back to an American with an axe to grind against his own government. From that era comes The Siege, a film that stands up as a great film but doesn’t seem nearly as far-fetched as it was back in its initial release.

When Islamic radicals destroy a bus in New York City, and target the FBI as well, an FBI Agent (Denzel Washington) is charged with bringing these criminals to justice. Complicating things is a CIA Agent (Annette Benning) with ties to the Arab world that may or may not have vital information to the case. Tossed in for good measure is the federal government wanting to bring down swift measures led by a general (Bruce Willis) who doesn’t want to do what he’s ordered but does it with incredible zeal. When the FBI can’t capture the terrorists, the Army comes in and declares martial law in the city. Hubbard has to try and track the culprits down while Devereaux and his troops detain the local Arab population in an attempt at capturing the terrorist population in the city. It becomes a battle of wills between the General and the FBI Agent leading to its inevitable conclusion.

And if it seems uncomfortable watching this film because of its subject matter, then it’s probably because the methods detailed in The Siege don’t seem nearly as implausible as they used to. If watching a terrorist attack on U.S soil was disconcerting to see nearly a decade ago, it’s even more so now because we’ve actually seen it happen. The events don’t seem so far-fetched anymore, nor does the response seem so in disproportion as it was when the film was originally released. The events of the film hit much closer to the home now, which takes away from it in some fashion.

The acting performances from Washington and Willis, though, still hold up despite the film’s uncomfortable nature. Washington has an established record of being good in nearly everything he’s in; a good performance is expected in this situation and he delivers as a man seemingly overwhelmed by the events around him. Willis matches him in a way that’s shocking from the action star, which usually involves him translating his action persona to any dramatic or comedic role he takes, as he matches Washington on screen in a dramatic role. Both are men conflicted by different motivations, as Devereaux is following orders and Hubbard is trying to solve a case, but both have a zealous nature to their duties. Willis may be out of his element per se but he isn’t out of his league; it’s a smart, nuanced performance from an actor known for being representative of the modern action hero.

The film’s script is also airtight, bringing out a story that still holds relevance in the post 9/11 world of filmmaking. Devereaux tells a committee that wants to break out the Army to take command of the situation that “this situation requires a scalpel. We’re a broadsword” and it is incredibly effective. The general doesn’t want to do what he is ordered to do, and we understand his objections clearly, but when he is given his orders he follows them ruthlessly. It’s intelligent in a way that thrillers in this genre are generally lacking in.

It’s an interesting take on a relatively generic plot moment, as one is used to the anti-hero resigning their post and declaring that it’s the wrong path to take, and shows the film’s complexity. Normally the film’s plot would lead into some insipid action film wherein Willis and Washington would become “wacky” partners and save the day, but Edward Zwick is a much better director than that. Outside of a few key sequences, this is about character development and the sort of white-knuckle thrills that keep one on the edge of their seat.

The Siege may not be as comfortable a viewing now as it was in 1998, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a first rate thriller. The fact that it’s a bit more uncomfortable to watch now is more of a statement of the time we live in now as opposed to 10 years ago, however.


Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround with an anamorphic widescreen format, complete with 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film has the same exact transfer as it did in its previous edition. It’s a strong audio/video presentation, no doubt, but it is disappointing due to it having a second edition released.

The Extras

The Siege: Taking New York is a retrospective piece on the film’s motivations, which was written in the aftermath of the first World Trade Center bombing. The film’s premise initially was about terrorists bringing in a nuclear weapon into New York, but the film’s producers thought the government response to something like this would be interesting as well so they adapted the script to this concept. Meshed with EPK footage from the film’s original release from Denzel Washington and Annette Bening, it’s an interesting look back on the film.

The Siege: Freedom is History focuses on the film’s nature in today’s age. Way ahead of its curve, as it is relevant today made because of terrorists attacks on American soil; it’s interesting to see the producers discuss the nature of radical Islam’s attacks on the US and our attitudes to it prior to 9/11. It’s an interesting look at how things were and how the film was so much ahead of its time in showing attitudes of various departments, et al.

The Making of The Siege is the original EPK material about the film, its production, et al.

Trailers for various films, including this one, is included as well on this DVD release.

Commentary by Producer/Director Edward Zwick and Executive Producer Peter Schindler

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Siege: Martial Law Edition
(OUT OF 10)