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Film / The Siege

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"London. Paris. Athens. Rome. Belfast. Beirut. 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, just before everyone's beepers go off

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. 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 an army barracks in Saudi Arabia (the actual 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 USAF men and a Saudi civilian). There are multiple casualties and a terrorist cell led by fundamentalist 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 the Arab-American 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 attack happened in Real Life. Well, mostly.

Features cameos by a young Aasif Mandvi and Bill Clinton.

This show contains examples of:

  • And Starring: A rare third-place billing for Bruce Willis on some posters, and his is the last name mentioned in the closing credits.
  • Anti-Villain: General Deveraux, who will do anything and everything to ensure his country is safe.
  • 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.
    • In the opening sequence, Sheik Ahmed Bin Talal is shown being black-bagged in what is said (in later dialogue to be) Lebanon, and a desert is shown. Lebanon is the only Arab country without a desert. The scene itself was filmed in Arizona.
  • 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 would probably not happen, because after the Oklahoma City bombing, federal buildings had to be retrofitted 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. An ordinary work van of the kind shown on camera would not have been able to penetrate these barriers, and thus the explosion would have taken place OUTSIDE the building, rather than inside of the lobby. There would have been heavy damage to the structure as well as that of adjacent buildings, maybe enough to warrant demolition, but its total collapse likely would not have occurred.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • Twice, General Devereaux refers to "the president invoking the War Powers Act." The WPA is not presidential authority for waging war or using 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. Merryman ruled the President was unable to suspend habeas corpus without Congress authorizing it, which they subsequently did.
    • General Devereaux wears a Combat Infantryman badge with a star. To be eligible for this at this point in time, he would have to have fought in the Korean War as well as the Vietnam War or other Cold War era actions. Apart from being too young to have been in the Korean War (Bruce Willis hadn't even been born yet when that started), he has no service medals from this period.
    • In the meeting at Capitol Hill, among General Devereaux's medal ribbons is a Silver Star with a V on it. The V ribbon device may be used on certain medals to denote valor or combat service, but it should not be on a Silver Star because that medal is only awarded for valor in combat.
    • 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.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: The theater attack is heard and felt from afar, and to the FBI team hanging out at the bar initially seems like an earthquake.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: A mule comes into the country with $9,980 in small bills, so as to avoid a law stating that any international transport of any amount of cash of $10,000 or greater must be declared in advance. Frank adds a single $20 from his wallet so the FBI can grab him anyway.note 
  • Bulletproof Vest: Shown being used during several raids. Hubbard and Frank wear them at the second bus bombing, not because of the possibility of a firefight, but so to absorb shrapnel when the bomb goes off.
  • 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 Devereaux was dead certain he had information.
  • Delivery Guy Infiltration: The FBI learns of a safe house belonging to some terrorists suspected of involvement with the bus bombings, which they believe may contain explosives or other chemicals that might have been used in the bombings. As the super notes that the occupants order lots of pizza, the FBI send Danny Sussman in disguised as a pizza delivery guy, and drops off a pizza box containing a flashbang grenade. The grenade then goes off as the man opens the box, disorienting the occupants as the SWAT team breaches the room.
  • Emergency Authority: The President of the United States declares martial law in Brooklyn and the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, under Devereaux, occupies Brooklyn, 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.
  • Faceless Goons: The FBI SWAT team that raids the terrorist safe house invoke this as a rare heroic example, wearing their balaclavas, with their helmets on top of that and their goggles lowered.
  • 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 noise made by the goats drowning out the sound of suppressed gunfire and also keeping us from seeing the soldiers kill the Sheikh's driver or bagging the Sheikh.
  • 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.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: After getting shot in the stomach after distracting Samir which gave Hubbard and Frank clear shots to kill him, Sharon lays dying on the floor of the bath house. After calling on his radio for medical assistance, Hubbard comforts Sharon, she starts to recite The Lords Prayer but struggles and he helps her speak the prayer and recites the final part as she lays on the ground quietly. After Hubbard finishes the Lord's Prayer, Sharon speaks saying the word "Inshallah" (If God Wills It, in Arabic) then dies, implying that she may have died as a Muslim (possibly reciting the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith, in her heart silently before her last verbal word).
  • 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, and strongly implies that it will be a terrible thing to do, outright imploring them to not do it. But when commanded to do so, he follows his orders to the utmost, and all of his predictions about the negative consequences come true.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Hers in this case. Sharon Bridger's work in Iraq comes back to bite her hard. Not only are the bombers in New York using the training she gave them, but the asset she's aggressively protecting from both the FBI and the Army turns out to be one of them. When she realizes just how badly she was played her world collapses.
  • Hollywood Law: A suspect is detained for carrying a large amount of currency in his luggage - but a mere $20 under the $10,000 limit. This is not illegal, and as the scene details, wouldn't work anyway; the arresting officer simply added some of his own cash to put the suspect over the limit.
  • I Am the Trope: Near the end of the film:
    William Devereaux: I am the law. Right here, right now, I am the law!
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksman Ship Academy: When the SWAT team raids a safe house where the co-conspirators to the bus bombers are hiding, the conspirators shoot back with automatic weapons. The first guy is quickly taken out, but the second guy (the one with the AKM) is a very bad shooter, since he's using a couch as an ineffective source of cover and pretty much shooting blindly (even inadvertently hitting his own comrade).
  • In Vino Veritas: Doubles with Foreshadowing. While drinking at a bar, Sharon lets slip that she operates on the principle of choosing "the wrong that is more right." She and Hubbard laugh it off as her drunken rambling, but the gray-area choices she's made drive the plot.
  • Invisible President: Strangely subverted. Newsreel footage of Bill Clinton appears at the beginning of the film of him condemning the terrorists responsible for the army barracks attack (the remarks come from a White House press briefing on June 25, 1996), and his portrait hangs 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.
  • Jump Scare: The sudden explosion of Bus #5287.
  • 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 their 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.
  • Monumental Damage: The second bombing is of the New Victory Theater in Times Square, and this is followed by someone driving a van full of explosives into the One Federal Plaza lobby.
  • The Needs of the Many: 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.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Sheikh is clearly meant to be treated like Osama bin Laden.
  • One-Woman Wail: Done several times, notably after the bus is blown up, and later after One Federal Plaza is wiped out.
  • Outranking Your Job: While Hubbard is shown doing the supervisory work expected of an Assistant Special Agent in Charge, he's also shown participating in raids with the agents under his command.
  • Police Brutality: FBI Agent Frank backhands Samir, a handcuffed suspect, after he insults him. Hubbard chews him out, while Frank defends himself by offering to tell him what Samir's people (the Palestinians) did to his village in Lebanon (presumably during the Lebanese Civil War, when numerous massacres on all sides occurred).
  • Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie: Subverted, or rather an amazingly literal example of an Unbuilt Trope.
  • Prison Rape: Discussed.
    Hubbard: You know what they do to new girls at Rikers 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 American men of Arab descent are being detained en masse as a search is done to locate the remaining cell members. One of them is Frank's son, who then refuses to help the FBI any further, throwing away his badge in disgust. 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 with Samir, though it doesn't work out. In fact, this is what kickstarted the plot to begin with.
  • Running Gag: Throughout the movie, Frank Haddad laments about the FBI not having the microwave surveillance equipment that the CIA has. When he and some of the other guys detain a vehicle full of US Army personnel spying on Kraft, Frank looks like a child on Christmas morning just seeing the equipment.
  • 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, while Hubbard and Frank observe through thermal imaging equipment.
    Frank Haddad: Beats the shit out of cable.
  • Sound-Only Death: Of Tariq Husseini.
  • Steel Eardrums: Averted when the bus is blown up. Due to his close proximity to the blast radius, Hubbard temporarily loses his hearing, and still is suffering from slight tinnitus a couple hours later.
  • Suicide Attack: The terrorists launch several, such as blowing up a bus with the people who they took hostage inside, or more fantastically driving into the FBI office and destroying the whole building with a truck bomb. At the end, Samir plans to bomb a protest march against internment of Arab-Americans, justifying this by saying it makes an optimal target and they'll be martyrs as well.
  • Suicide by Cop: When the first terrorist cell's safe house is raided, the terrorists inside choose to go down in a hail of bullets rather than be captured alive, which they provoke the SWAT team into doing for them by opening fire on them.
  • SWAT Team: An FBI SWAT team carries out the raid on the bus bombers' hideout. NYPD Emergency Service Units appear at the scenes of both bus hostage situations.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Frank Haddad is Hubbard's Number Two and is Arab-American. This is of course a central conflict to the movie as racism against Arab-Americans increases after several terrorist attacks, with young males of Arab ethnicity later being detained without charge, including his son, prompting his angry (temporary) resignation from the Bureau.
  • Vehicular Kidnapping: A man suspected of being part of a terrorist ring is running from two FBI agents and seems to have gotten away when suddenly a van with an open sliding door drives up right next to the suspect, and what had seemed to be an Innocent Bystander on the street shoves the suspect into the van through the open door and then jumps into the van as well just before it speeds away. Although shocked at seeing the guy they were chasing kidnapped by unknown people, Haddad can't help but admire the skill with which it was done.
    Frank Haddad: You gotta love that move.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The movie's depiction of the Federal government. The FBI, CIA, and US Army all want to protect America, but none of them have any line of sight on how to agree on it.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • General Devereaux. He's fully aware of the ramifications of a military force bearing down on a scared civilian populace and knows that martial law will lead to severe human 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 martial 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-Arab 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 Hubbard leads a team of FBI agents (basically everyone who's left alive) to arrest General Devereaux in the middle of his Army camp. He and his agents are completely outnumbered and outgunned but that doesn't matter because either Devereaux 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 Devereaux will be relieved of command. Anyway it goes down, Hub (and the rule of law) win. Devereaux 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.