Edward Zwick's The Siege also gets off to a good start. The CIA has secretly kidnapped an Islamic cleric suspected of being a terrorist, and the backlash--"blowback," as it's known in the trade--has begun. A terrorist cell working out of Brooklyn has commandeered a New York City bus, apparently with the intention of blowing up both the passengers and themselves. Soon, FBI agent Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) arrives on the scene, ready to negotiate. Getting the children off the bus is almost too easy. So is getting the elderly off until...ka-boom! And that's only the beginning. Next, a Broadway theater experiences the nontheatrical kind of bomb. And then a van packed with explosives pays a visit to a Manhattan federal building, crashing through the plate-glass windows. KA-BOOM! Zwick times these explosions like a true professional, and he gets a nice game of cat-and-mouse going between Hubbard and whoever's responsible. Then Annette Bening shows up as a CIA agent with contacts among Brooklyn's Arab expatriates, and the game of cat-and-mouse becomes a game of cat-and-cat-and-mouse as the FBI and the CIA work out who's in charge. There's no denying that the movie plays off our fears of Arab terrorism on American soil (not even bothering to mention American terrorism on American soil); but, at least early on, Zwick generates the excitement himself with some surprisingly taut action work and a fluid camera style. A policier in the mode of Z and State of Siege, the first half of The Siege provides the thrills and chills of professional cops doing their jobs. Alas, Zwick has larger fish to fry. The Siege isn't about catching terrorists but about how far we're willing to go to catch terrorists. Just as Washington and Bening are getting some chemistry going, they're shoved aside by Bruce Willis as an army general who takes over when the president declares martial law. The Siege loses its sure footing when Willis appears, clomping through a PC minefield it had previously been skillfully tiptoeing through. Zwick, who directed Glory and Courage Under Fire, wants to teach us a lesson again--a civics lesson this time. The lesson: We mustn't destroy the Bill of Rights in order to save the Bill of Rights.
A noble sentiment, but about as insightful as "Bombs don't kill, people kill."