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Final Jeopardy

In either of those cases--neither of which seems impossible--we would be left believing that martial law isn't all that unreasonable. That Zwick stacks his deck so lopsidedly is the movie's greatest failing. It's up to Washington to convince us that the film has made its point: His delivery of Hubbard's big climactic speech is so compelling that we find ourselves buying the message, even though it's not adequately supported by what has already taken place. (It's also amusing and frankly unbelievable that FBI agents are portrayed as such squeaky-clean defenders of our constitutional rights.)

Long before its release, the film drew loud protests from the Arab-American community, and though its political heart is in the right place, it isn't always as sensitive as it could be. Still, compared to Hollywood's usual treatment of Arabs--exemplified by movies such as True Lies and Into the Night--The Siege comes off as downright progressive. The most controversial scene--in which the head terrorist engages in Islamic purification rituals before going off on his final insane mission--seems, at best, gratuitous. And a counterbalancing scene of Hubbard attending a religious ceremony of Haddad's family is awkwardly shoehorned into the narrative, marking it almost surely as an afterthought to placate criticism.

Whatever its failings, The Siege is a more earnest attempt at using the thriller format to convey patriotic ideals than we're accustomed to seeing from Hollywood. Too bad its arguments aren't more convincing.

The Siege.
Directed by Edward Zwick. Written by Lawrence Wright, Menno Meyjes and Edward Zwick. Starring Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Bruce Willis and Tony Shalhoub.

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