Film: The Siege

London. Paris. Athens. Rome. Belfast. Beruit. We're not the first city to have to deal with terrorism. Tel Aviv. The day after they bombed the market in Tel Aviv the market was open and it was full. This is New York City. We can take it.
Anthony "Hub" Hubbard

The Siege (1998) is a film about terrorists attacking in New York City made about three years before 9/11. The film was directed by Edward Zwick, previously known for (among others) Glory (1989) and Legends Of The Fall (1994). Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, and Bruce Willis play patriotic characters with different ideas about the best way to defend America from terrorists.

The film opens with the bombing of American Army barracks in Saudi Arabia. There are multiple casualties and a terrorist cell under Sheikh Ahmed bin Talal is blamed. The action shifts to New York where a series of terrorist incidents occur, escalating in significance. Initially handled by FBI agents Anthony Hubbard (Washington) and Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub). Later, CIA agent Elise Kraft (Bening) gets involved. Later yet, the President declares martial law and the Army's 101st Airborne Division, under Major General William Devereaux (Willis), occupies and seals off Brooklyn in an effort to find the remaining terrorist cells. Devereaux has all young males of Arab descent, regardless of ideological affiliation, rounded up and detained in a makeshift prison camp at Yankee Stadium. This only helps worsen the situation. New Yorkers stage violent demonstrations against the army and the racial profiling of the Arabs. The Army has to fight to maintain control. There are reports of Army killings. Meanwhile, Devereaux starts interrogating suspects by torturing them. In one case to death. The situation further escalates.

In hindsight, the movie treated terrorism more maturely than many films before 9/11. Unfortunately note , the way the public, the government, and the terrorists acted in the film turned out to be pretty inaccurate when a large scale terrorist attacks happened in Real Life. Well, mostly.

Features cameos by a young Aasif Mandvi and Bill Clinton. The film was a box office hit, its worldwide gross estimated to 116,672,912 dollars. However, only 41 million of these dollars came from the United States market. There it was the 49th most successful film of its year and received mixed reviews. At least a few critics appreciated it as "a thinking person's thriller".

This show contains examples of:

  • A Million Is a Statistic: Deveraux justifies the killing of a civilian who, under interrogation, didn't reveal anything by invoking this trope, saying that one dead man to save a hundred is worth it.
  • Anachronism Stew: During the scene where Deveraux is describing what the occupation of New York would entail, he distinctly mentions the "M16A1 assault rifle"; the Army had upgraded to the M16A2 years before the events of the film. Or Devereaux is still used to referring to the older weapon.
    • Also the use of an AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter in the Redhook chop shop scene; the Army had replaced the Cobra with the AH-64 Apache at about the same time as they switched out the aforementioned M16 models.
  • Artistic License History: The One Federal Plaza bombing involves a van full of explosives being driven through the glass of the lobby, where it explodes. In real life, this could never happen, because ever since the Oklahoma City bombing, federal buildings must now be constructed with truck-resistant barriers and with deep setbacks from surrounding streets to keep them resistant to truck bombs. FBI buildings, for instance, must be set back 100 feet (30 m) from traffic.
  • Artistic License Geography: One Federal Plaza is not the location of the FBI's New York field office. It is the address for the US Court of International Trade. 26 Federal Plaza is the address of the FBI's New York office.
  • Artistic License Military:
    • Twice, General Devereaux refers to "the president invoking the War Powers Act." The WPA is not presidential authority for allow war or the use of the military (which comes from Congress), but it is in fact a rule passed by Congress in 1973 (after Vietnam) that severely limits a president's ability to unilaterally use military force without Congressional authorization.
    • At the strategy meeting, one of the participants cites Abraham Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1862. Another states that this act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and cites the case "Ex Parte Milligan." The actual case for this incident is "Ex Parte Merryman." The Milligan case involved the military trial of a civilian. The case determined that civilians cannot be tried in military courts, except under specific circumstances, which the Milligan case did not meet.
  • Anti-Villain: General Deveraux, who will do anything and everything to ensure his country his safe.
  • Bus Full of Innocents: The film plays this trope twice, where the terrorists have taken a Bus Full of Innocents and packed explosives into it to prove their point. The first time, it's a paint bomb, and no one gets hurt. The second time, there are children and old folks on the bus, but Hubbard persuades the terrorists to release the children. Then he tries to persuade them to release the old folks, and as they are getting off, the terrorists detonate real bombs and the entire bus goes up in a massive fireball.
  • Cassandra Truth: General Devereaux himself warns his superiors not to use him or his troops in New York City, as he knows that extremely strict martial law and the extreme force the military requires to carry out its operations would result in human rights violations, if not worse. They ignore his protests and everything goes to Hell.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: While the military is portrayed as doing the best as they can and the General in charge of the operation and the CIA Officer attending to it have major doubts about their operation, they're still trampling on basic human rights, as opposed to the FBI's attempt to handle the situation as cleanly and humanely as possible. The military and CIA go so far as to torture a man to death, simply because he refused to say anything, though the CIA agent attending didn't want to go through with it, and Deveraux was dead certain he had information.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Frank Haddad
  • Delivery Guy Infiltration: The FBI learns of a safehouse belonging to some terrorists suspected of involvement with the bus bombings, which they suspect may contain explosives or other chemicals that might have been used in the bombings. To raid it, Agent Danny Sussman is sent in ahead of the SWAT team disguised as a pizza delivery guy, and drops off a pizza box containing a smoke grenade. The grenade then goes off to disorient the occupants when the SWAT team storms in moments later.
  • Emergency Authority: The President of the United States declares martial law in Brooklyn and the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, under Major General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis), occupies the city district, seals it off, and proceeds to round up all young Arab males into makeshift detention camps.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Hubbard manages to convince the hostage takers on the second bus to release the innocent children on board, saving them from the explosion.
  • Fair Cop: Agent Hub.
  • General Ripper: Deveraux.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Used in the Sheikh's capture in the beginning. We see a Black Ops soldier disguised as a shepherd sneak away to pick up an assault rifle from his comrade. As the two get up and advance on the car, a herd of goats passes by the camera, with the goats drowning out the sound of gunfire and also keeping us from seeing the soldiers kill the Sheikh's driver or knock the Sheikh unconscious.
  • Gunpoint Banter: The climactic standoff between the FBI and General Devereaux borders on breaking out into a gunfight, but Devereaux declines to order his troops to fire and instead talks with Agent Hub, realizing the Xanatos Gambit by Agent Hub he was trapped in.
  • Heroic BSOD: Hubbard briefly has one after the bus explosion
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Devereaux warns his superiors that martial law is a bad idea, but when commanded to do so, he does anything and everything to eliminate the threat.
  • I Am the Trope: Near the end of the film:
    William Devereaux: I am the law. Right here, right now, I am the law!
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Again Devereaux.
  • Invisible President: Strangely subverted. Newsreel footage of Bill Clinton appears at the beginning of the film, and his portrait hangs in in Hubbard's office. But the characters refer to him as if he were a President Invisible. Devereaux does manage to get off a joke about the president being good at protecting himself, though.
  • Jurisdiction Friction:
    • The FBI vs the CIA. The FBI are shown busting several CIA officers operating on US soil early in the movie for "kidnapping, obstruction of justice and assault". However, they later are forced to clench teeth and work together with Elise Kraft/Sharon Bridger.
    • FBI vs the United States Army. The FBI usually enforces its own jurisdiction through brute, rigorous audacity, aka "detaining" (if not outright arresting) anyone who gets in their way, in the spirit of "Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us". They later arrest several soldiers spying on them, and proceed to later arrest General Devereaux, his entire command staff, and armed military sentries after a tense standoff.
  • Knight Templar: Devereaux. He'll do everything he can to protect America.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": Hubbard learns of the hostage situation at the school when everyone's cell phones start ringing off the hook like crazy.
  • Mexican Standoff: Near the end of the movie between the FBI and the 101st Airborne.
  • Pre 9/11 Terrorism Movie: Subverted, or rather an amazingly literal example of an Unbuilt Trope.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Sheikh is clearly meant to be something like Osama bin Laden.
  • One-Woman Wail: When Hubbard is deafened temporarily after the second bus is blown up
  • Prison Rape: Discussed.
    Hubbard: You know what they do to new girls at Ryker's Island?
    Kraft (who is a woman): Mmmmm... Yum.
  • Profiling: One of the major plot points in the film is, after the military is called in, that young Americans of Arab descent are being detained en masse as a search is done to locate the remaining cell members. There are also numerous reports of hate crimes against the Arab-American population, and in-between scene transitions, you can hear phone calls and radio call-ins about those "towelheads".
  • Really Gets Around: Elise, but that is part of her professional duties.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Elise takes this approach, though it doesn't work out. In fact, this is what kickstarted the plot in the entire place.
  • Running Gag: Frank lamenting about the FBI not having microwave surveillance equipment. He finally gets it, after he detains US Army personnel spying on Kraft.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Frank resigns in protest when the Army detains his son, throwing down his badge and leaving. Hub later manages to talk him out of it though.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Samir Nazhde takes a smoke after having sex with Sharon Bridger in one scene.
  • Steel Eardrums: Averted with the second bus bombing. Hubbard is temporarily deafened by the blast for several minutes when the shockwave knocks him off his feet, and still is suffering from slight tinnitus sometime later.
  • Suicide by Cop: When the first terrorist cell's safehouse is raided, the terrorists inside choose to go down in a hail of bullets rather than be captured alive.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • General Deveraux. He's fully aware of the ramifications of a military force bearing down on a scared civilian populace and knows that wartime law enforced would lead to severe rights violations (in his first appearance, he says he agrees with the ACLU on this issue) and an unhappy, uncooperative city, but when ordered to enact military law does it by all means necessary, and is determined to bring down the threat-even if it means civilian casualties.
    • Samir Nazhde. He's retaliating against the US for what he sees as injustice rendered to what had been a former ally, thrown away like trash. His final target is a pro-peace march, which he acknowledges as "a tragedy", but rationalizes that all of his victims will be martyrs.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The movie ends with a big one when Denzel Washington's Agent Hub leads a team of FBI agents (basically everyone who's left alive) to arrest General Deveraux in the middle of his Army camp. He and his agents are completely outnumbered and outgunned but that doesn't matter because either Deveraux will stand down, he'll order his men to fire and they'll refuse to kill the FBI agents (who are supposed to be on the same side), or he'll order them to fire, they'll follow the order, and the murder of a dozen federal agents will be too much lawlessness for the White House to tolerate, and Deveraux will be relieved of command. Anyway it goes down, Hub (and the rule of law) win. Deveraux sees the play too, which is why he engages in Gunpoint Banter with Hub instead of just ordering his soldiers to fire, but finally he decides since he's going to lose any way he plays it, he'll stand down and avoid throwing good money after bad with another illegal order.