The Siege | Chicago Reader

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Edward Zwick's liberal, semisuccessful efforts to upgrade our notions of the Civil War (Glory) and the gulf war (Courage Under Fire), aided in both cases by Denzel Washington, are roughly matched by his efforts here to make sense of Palestinian terrorists, at least from a relatively uncomprehending American point of view, in a 1998 thriller about their setting off explosions in New York City. On the other hand, the Arab American Action Network has understandably denounced the film for its demonizing stereotypes. The problem, as always, is that when you try to mix cliches with more complicated data it's often the cliches that win out. Washington in this case plays a virtuous special agent of the FBI—an organization that is treated here with hushed piety, at least in comparison with the muddled CIA (represented by Annette Bening's case officer) and the relatively unscrupulous army (represented by Bruce Willis's general). What emerges is a better than average assemblage of platitudes, with some occasionally witty and pertinent dialogue (by screenwriters Lawrence Wright, Menno Meyjes, and Zwick) and—you guessed it—plenty of explosions. The always interesting Tony Shalhoub plays Washington's Lebanese-American partner, but like everyone else in the movie he's playing a type, not a character.

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