In a dramatization and re-telling of factual events based on the protests of the World Trade Organization coming to Seattle in 1999, Battle in Seattle presents a struggle that poses a dilemma for all involved. What is supposed to be a peaceful protest by activists to keep the WTO from meeting in the Emerald City turns ugly when lines between peace and legality are crossed. The action is furious, confusing and gripping as the tension between the police and the protestors builds while a state of emergency is declared. Actor turned first time Director Stuart Townsend deftly blends actual footage from the chaotic events in with the actors in the plot to create a compelling motion picture that presents an intellectual challenge for viewers.
When someone watches footage of an event like this on the news or reads about it in the paper, there is usually only one angle being portrayed and relayed to you as an audience member. That is where the strength of this film lies. There are multi-layered interwoven storylines provided as perspectives from local city and national government, the activists protesting and the police trying to control them, a news reporter on the scene, and a reluctantly pregnant department store employee offer to serve as varying viewpoints on what sometimes can seem like a black and white issue when fed to us by the media.
The acting performances are strong across the board for the most part with an eclectic cast serving to bring the events to life. Most notable is Martin Henderson as Jay, the leader of the protestors who the film seems to center on most. Perhaps best known for playing opposite Ice Cube in the biker bomb that was Torque, he gets an opportunity to display some range here playing opposite another rapper turner actor, Andre Benjamin of the hip-hop group Outkast. Also on board are the typically reliable Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson, playing husband and wife who must face tragedy in their personal and potential family lives via the results of the protesting gone awry.
Ray Liotta is solid as Seattle’s conflicted mayor, acting as one of the emotional fulcrums in the movie. A man divided, he wants what is best for the city first and foremost, having been a former protestor himself, yet at the same time he receives tons of pressure to act to stop the “non-violence” as it were, that takes place throughout Seattle’s beautiful downtown area. Cast also includes Connie Nielsen, Channing Tatum and Michelle Rodriguez among the eleven main characters.
The “action” is frenetic and chaotic. Emotions run high throughout in a film that has several dimensions, allowing the story to be told from several different perspectives which makes the film unique. While there is a pro-activist and democratic stance, Townsend allows all sides to have their say (for the most part) which really gives you the feeling that you are there and can understand the predicament of such situations as they happen throughout the world.
Viewing Battle as solely a story told in pictures there are some things that aren’t perfect. The love story is underdeveloped (initially anyway) and unnecessary in a film of this variety. There are some character loose ends and maybe a plot point or two that through greater examination would probably lead one to downgrade it slightly solely as a film. However, as an overall cinematic experience with a strong message, this is one to see. While perhaps you don’t care quite as much about the characters as you do the actual outcome of the protest story itself, it is still an engrossing story that is well told, shot and acted and it deserves recognition as such.