Published Oct 16, 2008Battle in Seattle is a fictionalised account of the 1999 protests that shut down the World Trade Organization meetings. Taking place over a four-day period, the film has interlocking storylines that attempt to represent all sides of the event, from the protesters to the police, from the conference delegates and the media to the mayor (a scenery-chewing Ray Liotta).
What emerges is a portrait of a city unprepared for how organised the protesters were, a police force overwhelmed and under-slept, and who were given conflicting orders, a mayor that tried to please everybody, a media focus that only saw the violence and ignored the work of the activists, a group of protesters who began united but splintered over tactic choices, and all the people caught in the middle of a town that ended up clouded in teargas and pepper spray.
First time director Stuart Townsend does well building the tension and capturing the chaos of the protest, interspersing real footage with the fiction. The script covers the issues fairly well, being sympathetic to all sides (except, perhaps, the controlling interests of the WTO, who come off very badly). In trying to portray the essence of such a large event through a handful of human stories though, some of the plotlines seem a bit contrived and melodramatic (the vain TV reporter being transformed into an activist by her experiences on the street, the wife of a police officer getting tragically caught up in the action, the protesters finding love on the front lines, etc.).
Perhaps the most subtly told and interesting stories in the film involve delegates attending the conference, where you witness the frustration of a Doctors Without Borders representative trying to get the attention of an organisation more interested in protecting pharmaceutical patents than saving lives and an African delegate being marginalised and ignored.
Even with the Hollywood treatment that makes some of the stories ring slightly false, Battle in Seattle has such a compelling subject and structure that you cant help but get drawn into the action. (Remstar)