When Arab terrorists blow up a bus in Manhattan containing hostages, FBI Terrorist Task Force Chief Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) and his Arab-American partner Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub) mobilize their resources to track down the group responsible for this act of violence. In their investigations centering on an Arab cadre in Brooklyn, they clash with Elise Kraft (Annette Bening), a Middle East specialist and secret CIA operative who has her own agenda.

Although Hubbard's team manages to wipe out one terrorist cell, another one crops up and destroys a Broadway theatre filled with many of the city's cultural leaders. The final straw is the bombing of the building housing the FBI headquarters. Over 600 people are killed, including many of Hubbard's people. The President authorizes General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) to establish martial law in New York City with thousands of troops. Many Arab-Americans are detained in barbed wire enclosed detention camps, including Haddad's son.

This thought-provoking political thriller directed by Edward Zwick is based on a story by Lawrence Wright. It asks all the right ethical questions about the repercussions of CIA activities around the world that promote violence, the senseless refusal of federal law enforcement agencies to cooperate with each other in times of calamity, and the dangers inherent in anti-terrorist contingency programs designed to protect American citizens. Zwick (Courage Under Fire) has fashioned another ethical tour de force that reveals his dedication to serious filmmaking.