“We’ve revised the Rules of Engagement.”
In 1992, a siege took place on Ruby Ridge–a remote corner of Idaho–about 40 miles from the Canadian border. The FBI surrounded the crude mountain home of the Weaver family, and the siege lasted for a total of 11 days. The Weaver family consisted of: Weaver, his wife Vicki, four children, and a young man named Kevin Harris. When the siege concluded, questions began to emerge about the event–was the situation unavoidable? Did the use of extreme force exacerbate the situation? Were there ever any alternatives?
The film The Siege at Ruby Ridge traces the fortunes of the Weaver family beginning with the wedding of former Green Beret, Randy Weaver (Randy Quaid) to Vicki (Laura Dern) in Iowa in the 1970s. The first part of the story sets the stage for the rest of the film and concentrates on the Weaver’s religious beliefs–these beliefs involved an imminent Armageddon, heavy reliance on Old Testament doctrine, and strong anti-Semitic theories about government control. The Weavers attended church, but soon found it wasn’t strict enough for their beliefs. The Weavers eventually decided to withdraw from a society they found distasteful and moved to Idaho with a solid plan to disconnect from the world.
Once in Idaho, the Weavers become involved with the Aryan Nation, and when Randy is arrested by the ATF for selling illegal weapons, the situation spins out of control.
The film The Siege at Ruby Ridge is a riveting treatment of the story. Laura Dern is well cast as Vicki Weaver–the inflexible backbone of the Weaver family–she’s single minded, stubborn, and unrelenting. The film indicates that Vicki ruled the family–making most of the decisions. Relatives are alarmed and concerned as the Weavers drift farther into isolation and paranoia, but no one seems able to reach Vicki.
Many questions remain about the siege, and the film tackles the biggest–most crucial question–by playing two different scenarios. The first incident of gunfire is relayed according to the federal marshal’s version, and also according to Kevin Harris’s version. But one of the main criticisms of the film is that it fails to make several other crucial moments clear. How did the Weavers slide from their insular dogmatic beliefs to rubbing shoulders with the Aryan Nation? What communication–if any–existed between the snipers and the negotiators? Who was in charge of the operation? No doubt this is where a good solid documentary would prove useful. The film remains, overall, a good attempt to convey the insanity that took place on Ruby Ridge. While the Weavers are not portrayed sympathetically (just ask yourself if you’d like them as neighbours), the film effectively depicts the flattening of their family unit by massive manpower, war machinery and the inefficient churning of bureaucracy.