Battle in Seattle movie poster
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Battle in Seattle movie poster

Battle in Seattle Movie Review

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I have lived in the Seattle area for over twenty years, and was in high school when the WTO conference was held in December of 1999. I was in high school, but not yet interested in politics or economics. Hell, it would be another three years before I truly got into the issues of free trade, economic growth and political divisions. So, when the riots broke out, I remember being fascinated by them, not for what they represented but because, for a rare time, Seattle was in the worldwide spotlight. I remember even considering going to downtown to see what all the fuss was about, until one of my school acquaintances showed up in class with red eyes and said he'd been tear-gassed.

Battle in Seattle is now on DVD, and while I equate that term with the now-defunct rivalry between my alma mater Western Washington University and the far inferior Central Washington University, I was looking forward to seeing a rare film that focuses on one of the most exciting moments in Seattle history. By the way, most of the movie was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Battle in Seattle is an ensemble film that looks at the coordination of several of the head protesters, the police officers on the front line, the mayor's office and those affected within the WTO. Directed by rookie Stuart Townsend, the movie has an impressive cast, including Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Carpenter, Andre Benjamin, Ray Liotta, Connie Nielsen, Channing Tatum and Townsend's wife, Charlize Theron. The lucky bastard.

All of the actors deliver good-but-not-remarkable performances, though the film is very plot-based. Battle in Seattle feels like a lesser United 93, as it looks at the logistics that went into the protests on both sides - or all sides - of the conflict. Character development is an afterthought, and this is problematic; Townsend seems to shy away from making a stance, or at least developing complex enough characters where we can decide for ourselves. Ultimately, the characters are bland and uninteresting.

The bigger problem with Battle in Seattle is that unlike United 93, it does not show the logistical plans of the various sides very well at all. United 93 was a tense, complicated and intriguing drama that seemed to show 30 different things going on at once; Townsend has trouble with just a couple. While he provides some insight into the protester strategies, the scenes are largely superficial. The movie jumps into the riots so quickly that the police strategies and mayoral policies are hardly given a thought, even though their lack of preparation led to major criticism following the conference.

The movie is still interesting, and has a nice look and feel to it. Townsend does a good job of intermixing real footage with his dramatized version, though he seems torn between personalizing the film and showing what truly happened. The result is a mixed and incomplete product.

For Townsend's first directorial work, Battle in Seattle is an OK debut - but he has a lot to learn. Those interested in the subject may want to take a look, but everyone else can skip this entry.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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