"What if what they really want is for us to herd our children into stadiums like we're doing? And put soldiers on the street and have Americans looking over their shoulders? Bend the law, shred the Constitution just a little bit? Because if we torture him, General, we do that and everything we have fought, and bled, and died for is over. And they've won. They've already won!" -- Special Agent Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington), The Siege
It's downright chilling to watch Edward Zwick's startlingly prescient The Siege in a post-9/11 world. There's really no logical way to approach the film without taking the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. into account -- created a full three years before the Twin Towers fell, United 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field and the Pentagon was damaged, it stands as the kind of film that Hollywood will likely shy away from for some time to come. A creative impulse to wonder "what if" has been replaced by works that reflect what's happening now in the world or the ripple effect of such a cataclysmic sociopolitical event like 9/11 -- films like The Road to Guantanamo or even Oliver Stone's World Trade Center -- these are the reactions of filmmakers to the last few scarifying years.
But even before those horrifying turns of history, The Siege played out in the post-Oklahoma City bombing world that gave the third Die Hard film its uncomfortable edge. New York City had been struck before, in 1993, but it's hard not to get a bit of a lump in your throat when Denzel Washington's character utters the line "This is New York City. We can take it." It's a harrowing moment in a film littered with them.
Washington stars as federal agent Anthony Hubbard, a no-nonsense investigator thrown into a messy, violent case involving homegrown terrorism, with Arab cells taking out buses, schools, theaters and threatening to harm even more. Annette Bening co-stars as a mysterious CIA operative who's more involved with the enemy than she lets on and Bruce Willis registers as an iron-willed Army general who's tasked with a most unpleasant duty. Plenty of the twists and surprises in the film feel wholly unnerving, yet Zwick's film wobbles mightily during its final act, lapsing into deus ex machina laziness and preachiness. Still, when Zwick gets out of his own way and lets his set pieces do their work, The Siege is nothing less than riveting.
Is The Siege a more gripping film because of the events of the last five years? Not especially, but images that were calculated to shock before (troops marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, citizens of Arab descent caged in stadiums) now have the disquieting feel of authenticity. It's a work that anticipates the barbarity of Guantanamo Bay and, of course, the destruction of the Twin Towers, but also presages the horror of Abu Ghraib and the ceaseless images of Iraq carnage on the nightly news. The sobering realities of our 21st century world have made this film, alongside many others, a more poignant document of a simpler time, a world that exists now only in movies.
There will doubtless be those who don't take kindly to 20th Century Fox's titling this edition the "Martial Law" edition, particularly since it somewhat cheapens one of the film's major plot points. Nevertheless, this release marks the third DVD incarnation (after the original release and a subsequent anamorphic widescreen, DTS-branded release) but the first to feature any substantial bonus material. The DVD
The Siege is offered up in a razor-sharp 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that, from what I can tell, is indistinguishable from the 2001 edition. It's a clean, crisp image that renders cinematographer Roger Deakins' work beautifully, with a minimum of visual flaws. The Audio:
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 track (the DTS 5.1 track didn't make the jump to this new edition) provides plenty of dazzling moments to give home theaters a work-out. Dialogue is rendered cleanly and free of any distortion; Spanish and French Dolby 3.0 tracks are included as are optional English and Spanish subtitles. The Extras:
Not surprisingly, most of the supplements deal with viewing The Siege in a post-9/11 world, leading off with a commentary track featuring Zwick and executive producer Peter Schindler, recorded separately, discussing the origins of the project and continually referring back to how astonishingly prescient the film has become. Zwick admits up front that he hasn't seen the movie in about nine years and to watch The Siege now is "to look at a very different movie." It's a great, informative listen. A trio of featurettes -- the 13 minute, 15 second "The Siege: Freedom is History"; the 13 minute, 51 second "The Making of The Siege" and the 14 minute, seven second "The Siege: Taking New York" -- cover everything from the film's increased relevance post-9/11 to the nuts and bolts of making the film in the mid-'90s. All the featurettes are presented in fullscreen, with a pair of original theatrical trailers (also presented in fullscreen) rounding out the disc. Final Thoughts:
Is The Siege a more gripping film because of the events of the last five years? Not especially, but images that were calculated to shock before (troops marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, citizens of Arab descent caged in stadiums) now have the disquieting feel of authenticity. It's a work that anticipates the barbarity of Guantanamo Bay and, of course, the destruction of the Twin Towers, but also presages the horror of Abu Ghraib and the ceaseless images of Iraq carnage on the nightly news. The sobering realities of our 21st century world have made this film, alongside many others, a more poignant document of a simpler time, a world that exists now only in movies. Recommended.