“The Siege,” starring Denzel Washington and Annette Bening, is a story of ‘blowback’ and the extreme measures government will implement to maintain control.
After the bombing of a U.S. facility abroad, American military forces capture and place in custody the man suspected to be responsible (the Sheik). It’s this action that sets off a chain reaction of retaliation. Soon after, in New York, unnamed Islamic terrorists attack the city and its people, demanding the Sheik’s release. Denzel, as the FBI’s chief counter-terror agent, chases the terrorist cells through the city, always rooting his actions in law and order, despite the directions of others. It’s when the terrorists blow up a federal building, killing 600, that the President steps in and declares martial law. The army goes block by block, door to door, and rounds up any and all Muslim people that fit their broad profile: male, 14-30 years of age. Beyond that, the military sees no moral conflict in torturing suspects for information, despite Denzel’s eloquent plea against it. In the end, the FBI works in the shadows to legally take down the terrorists and arrest the military men responsible for the reprehensible actions in the city.
This film deals with several major liberty themed points, namely: the idea of blowback, the morality of torture, law & justice, and the dangers of ‘racial profiling’. The film’s jumping off point is the tactical take-down of the Sheik, the man responsible for the bombing of an American facility abroad. While it is understandable to seek retribution for such an act, the film brings to light the idea of blowback – that foreign policy actions have unintended consequences. In this particular example, a “rouge” elements of the U.S. military engaged in his illegal extraction, undoubtedly invoking contempt that manifested itself in the bombings. This isn’t to say legal means of capturing the man would have had a different effect, but it is to say every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Beyond this, though only a minor plot point, it is revealed that Annette Bening’s CIA trainees are the very same individuals now terrorizing the United States. In regards to torture, and martial law in general, Denzel’s character has a rather powerful monologue, in which he regards the current situation as “shredding the constitution”, and in that effect “they’ve already won”. Finally, one of the biggest thrusts of the film is in regards to Islam and people’s fear of it in the wake of religiously charged attacks. It is in this point that the film’s message is most relevant given current American fears and political rhetoric. To this, the film shows the “lump sum” attitude as misguided, as the large net the military stretches to round up the last remaining terrorist cells doesn’t even catch one lawbreaker. Instead, this net catches the innocent, a point made by Denzel’s Lebanese partner searching frantically for his 13 year old son in the large cages.
1) Is martial law ever a reasonable option?
2) Is it a coincidence that the military’s racial profiling of Muslim individuals was completely ineffective? Was this a conscious decision by the film-makers?
3) Is this film an indictment of America’s foreign policy? In what ways is it?