Friday, October 17, 2008

Battle in Seattle A Phyrric Movie

There are two sides to the film the Battle in Seattle. Yes, immediately one thinks of activists vs. McWorld. But that isn’t what I mean. The Battle in Seattle has great film making paired with some of the most mundane clichés.

The Battle in Seattle is a fictionalized account of true events that took place when activists in Seattle interrupted the WTO (World Trade Organization) from meeting. Non-violent protests and acts of civil disobedience managed to stop the plenary session by barring entry to the Paramount Theatre using creative tactics. However, mobs of people easily get out of control, which was exactly what happened as the downtown core of the city turned into a riot. The mayor of Seattle was forced by higher ups in the US government to take more extreme measures. The police began to control the protestors using force and arrest as a state of emergency was called.

Inspired by these events, first time writer/director Stuart Townsend brings us into the frontlines of Seattle’s battle. For five days, the indignancy and anger of ordinary people is captured. Activists whose issues range from labor concerns to sea turtles join forces. The activists withstand tear gas and rubber bullets for their respective causes, believing in something greater. They do this with heroic ferocity. The film certainly galvanizes sympathy and appreciation for the work of these men and women. This is where the film is commendable.

On the other hand, to convey the story and tell its messages, stock characters with stock situations are used. The worst of the bunch are the characters of the activists, whose lines are often just statements of principle put into dialogue. I don’t know who is the worst: the perpetual optimist? The angry anarchist? The champion of non-violence who is drive by a desire to avenge his brother’s death? The one who quits and has to be reminded of the big picture? Worse, is the “novice” blonde reporter who disobeys her boss to cover the protests instead of the arrival of Clinton. Then the situations – the woman who gets caught in the mob who doesn’t belong there, the showdown between the non-violent protestors and those who are less gentle on the city, the cops brutalizing the crowd.

Fortunately, even shallow characters with rotten dialogue are given a bit of roundness by passionate actors. Ray Liotta does a wonderful job as the conflicted mayor whose hand is forced by the US government. Woody Harrelson is the perfect vehicle for controlled rage. Charlize Theron evokes a great deal of sympathy for her character, the pregnant, politically unaware upscale shopgirl .

Another aspect of the film that I appreciate is the fact that the director indicates the way the protests hinder some of the “good guys” (Médecins sans Frontiers, for example) who are on the inside of the WTO. Of course, I wonder why the presenter for MSF looks like a bedraggled intellectual in need of a shave and a haircut. He heads up a major international NGO and is a physician. Despite the fact the WTO is dominated by corporate interests, it also provides opportunities for necessary networking and visibility of NGOs.

All in all, Battle in Seattle is an important film to see, if only to remind ourselves that we can make a difference and that our voices can be heard.

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