Ed Zwick is taking flak from the Council on American-Islamic Relations for directing and co-writing a thriller about Arab terrorism in New York that the Council says is likely to increase hatred of Muslims. Denzel Washington as an FBI task-force head, Annette Bening as a CIA operative and Bruce Willis as an Army general each have an agenda in reacting to the bombing of a bus in Brooklyn and a dignitary-packed Broadway theater. Martial law is declared, and Arab-Americans are herded into detention camps just as Japanese-Americans were during World War II.
It’s a provocative premise, and Zwick aims for fairness by casting Lebanese actor Tony Shalhoub as an Arab-American FBI agent whose family is victimized. And Zwick condemns the CIA for its blowbacks and the U.S. military for its torture tactics. Still, The Siege is not a documentary but a glossy Hollywood entertainment that is prey to all the exaggerations, simplifications and acting histrionics that come with the genre. It’s difficult to sustain a responsible subtext when you’re delivering the jolts required to keep butts in the seats.