The protestors are supposed to be the heroes, but I found them more annoying than heroic.
Battle in Seattle is a retelling of the riots that broke out in the title city in 1999 during a meeting of the World Trade Organization. It is also actor Stuart Townsend's feature-film writing and directing debut. Featuring some well-filmed and tense riot scenes, the movie ultimately fails because of cliched, one-dimensional characters and hackneyed writing. It seems that Townsend is a better director than a writer.
At the start, the movie seems to be trying to show four sides to the this story. There's the city government led by Mayor Tobin (Liotta), who woefully underestimated the size of the protests and then failed to act fast enough to deal with them. Under him are police officers played by Woody Harrelson and Tatum Channing. On the opposite side are the protestors led by Jay (Martin Henderson) who brings along a few recognizable faces with him. Then you have the delegates of the WTO who are clearly cast as the villains of the piece, because you know, Capitalism is bad in Hollywood movies (although Hollywood bigshots certainly doesn't mind being Capitalists themselves). And finally you have the real victims, the innocent bystanders who are caught in the middle of the fight raging between the other three, as exemplified by Ella (Theron), Harrelson's pregnant wife, and Dr. Maric, a member of Doctor's Without Borders who has come to the WTO for aid, but whose cause is lost in the chaos that follows.
The movie's biggest problem is simply that instead of real people it is populated with causes. Each of the characters is clearly there to represent one viewpoint. Harrelson's police officer is one of the few convincing characters in the movie, despite his part being steeped in melodrama. At least he seems human. His and his wife Ella's storyline is the only one that evokes real emotion.
Despite starting the movie somewhat vaguely neutral, the story quickly moves to the side of the protestors. It's just too bad that they are all so annoying that you practically end up feeling sorry for the WTO. The end of the movie even tries to play the entire event as a victory for the protestors, but just what they accomplished is beyond me. But then, just what the fuck they thought they were GOING to accomplish is beyond me, except perhaps for assuaging some middle-class guilt complex. The only real results of their actions is the destruction of public property and a huge financial hit to the local economy.
The best parts of the movie are the riot scenes. They're mixed with actual news footage from the real riots. In fact, I kept feeling as though the whole movie might have been better off as a fly-on-the-wall documentary that just detailed the events rather than this weak fictional depiction of them.
The total chaos in the Seattle streets in 1999 is certainly worthy of a movie. The idea that the streets of a major city could become a war-zone of this nature is a horrifying thought. It's too bad Townsend wasn't able to do those events justice.
Photos © Copyright Hyde Park International (2008)