Film Review: Battle in Seattle

by Z*
Special to iVoryTowerz

It took nine months of preparation and five days of action to make history in 1999 at the protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Seattle. And it took six years to revive that history in a new film that also marks the directorial debut by actor Stuart Townsend. His docudrama Battle in Seattle is based on true events from the anti-WTO protests on November 30, 1999 when thousands of people took the streets to disrupt negotiations in Seattle, Washington. The movie is opening in only five cities and that limited opening is reason enough to see it, more than offsetting a number of shortcomings in the movie.

Having dealt with disappointing indifference in Hollywood, Townsend managed to assemble a famous cast including Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Andre Benjamin, Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Ray Liotta, and Connie Nielsen. Their fictionalized characters provide different angles of the story: authority, cops, bystanders, protestors and the media. Meanwhile, there seems to be an attempt to appeal to different audiences; to the mainstream public, while trying to satisfy those who participated in the action and those who still care.

For many people, the drama of what is called "free trade" and its consequences is not enough to forego seeing Lakeview Terrace (this past weekend’s number one box office hit) and the director is clearly aware of it. Hence, romanticization of the events as Henderson’s Jay falls in love with Rodriguez’ tough activist named Lou. Re-creating a true story, the movie is already predictable, however, the conventional storylines of individuals exacerbate it.

Perhaps Townsend spent too much time in his quest for an accurate script that would reflect the truth. This aim is unarguably achieved as the movie includes a lot of documentary footage that makes the film credible. Some scenes are word-by-word replaying of the dialogues and actions that took place in what the media dubbed the Battle in Seattle. One can be happy enough to watch these events on YouTube to see the protestors getting beaten up, and tear-gassed by the police.

Townsend’s noble motives to educate people who don’t know about the so-called "free trade" movement and its implications for developing nations, to inspire people to take action and believe in change might prove worthless unless his film opens around the U.S. As an independent film it lacks complexity that will satisfy the primary audience — people who know and care — as a mainstream movie it lacks a popular explanation why others should care about the events that are nearing their tenth anniversary celebration.

As one of the jailed heroes, played by Andre Benjamin, cheers up his comrade, he predicts why this movie might fail to win over a bigger audience, “Three days ago, nobody even knew what the WTO was… Now they still don't know what it is, but at least they know it's bad.”

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

(The promotional photo is from Battle in Seattle
and Canada's Insight Film Studios. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)

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Liberal Arts Dude said...

I agree with your assessment that the film, although well-meaning, lacks a certain something that would make it appeal to the mainstream who don't necessarily know or care about the events and activism in Seattle, and doesn't go deep enough to satisfy the diehard indie film fans who would care and be knowledgeable about the events. That said, I appreciate Stuart Townsend's effort and would urge people to see it. But if they are seeing his film, I would recommend to see other films on the 1999 protests such as This is What Democracy Looks Like to get a more complete picture on the activism.

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