The Siege tells a hypothetical story about terrorist attacks on New York City by Islamic fundamentalists, and how an FBI department led by Special Agent Hubbard (Denzel Washington) tries to stop them. A CIA agent (Annette Bening) is also involved, and refuses to cooperate with the FBI, at least at first. When the attacks continue and the FBI and police are unable to stop them, President Bill Clinton imposes martial law and U.S. Army units under General Devereaux (Bruce Willis) occupy and isolate Brooklyn and round up all the young Arab men and place them in an internment camp. This leads to several consequences and to a final showdown that will not be revealed here.
The Siege was controversial already in 1998 when it was released: the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations both protested strenuously and said the movie was offensive and discriminatory. After the 9/11-2001 terrorist attacks on the United States it can be seen that the movie was in some ways prescient: it practically predicted terrorist attacks on New York by Islamic fundamentalists, a fatal lack of cooperation between the FBI and the CIA, and the imposition of measures that reduced civil liberties for average Americans.
In fact, the key conflict in The Siege is not the conflict between the terrorists and the law enforcement agencies. The key conflict is an ideological one: On one hand there are those who believe that all possible means, including the use of torture and the detention and isolation of suspects with no access to legal process, can be necessary responses to a terrorist threat. On the other hand there are those who believe that use of torture and the reduction of civil liberties can never be justified, and that if one resorts to these measures then one has handed victory to the terrorists.
It is the emphasis of this ideological conflict that makes The Siege so thought provoking and leads me to award it five stars.
Others have panned The Siege as being too anti-military, claiming that the imposition of martial law is farfetched and the U.S. military depicted as too inhumane. Here it must be pointed out that in the hypothetical situation presented in The Siege there was an on-going series of terrorist attacks with no end in sight, a far different situation than that experienced on 9/11-2001.
It's interesting to note that the script for The Siege was written by Lawrence Wright, who later, in 2006, wrote a book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, and won the Pulitzer Prize for it. This book is also highly recommended.
A few words about DVD extra material. The first DVD release (2000) includes a 13-minute special feature "The Making of The Siege", which is fairly interesting but nothing very special. There is a newer DVD release (2007) subtitled "Martial Law Edition" which includes two additional special features, "The Siege: Taking New York" and "The Siege: Freedom is History". Unfortunately I haven't seen this edition yet.
Highly recommended, at least if you want more than just action and drama and enjoy thought-provoking stories.