The riots that confronted the World Trade Organization’s 1999 meeting in Seattle forced politically minded citizens into some tough intellectual deliberation. First there were the horrible images of smashed windows and police brutality on the news. Questions sprang up: When does a protest stop being peaceful? And what constitutes the appropriate application of law and order in such a situation? At the same time, the politics of globalisation came under the microscope. Increasingly unfettered multinational business seems to be increasing wealth in developing nations – but at what cost to the social fabric? All of these issues and more lie at the heart of Irish actor Stuart Townsend’s provocative and heartfelt debut as a director.
The film follows multiple fictional storylines about people affected by the crisis, crossing the spectrum of debate and confrontation to examine what was going on inside and outside the Seattle convention space. The film grounds the sometimes heady politics of civil liberties and global economics by focusing on people’s individual experiences of the event. While its political sympathies clearly tip toward the protestors, Battle in Seattle maintains a certain open-endedness that allows for reasoned continuing debate.
Terrific performances from a wonderful ensemble cast help the director immeasurably. Townsend’s real-life partner, Charlize Theron, is heartbreaking as Ella, the wife of a police officer, who is forced to contend with unexpected violence, finding herself on the wrong side of authority. Ray Liotta as Seattle mayor Jim Tobin and Woody Harrelson as Ella’s husband, Dale, one of the city’s SWAT-like policemen, are key figures; we watch as their ordered view of the world slowly unravels. Michelle Rodriguez, Martin Henderson and André Benjamin play the most prominent protestors, their often naive enthusiasm dulled by mass arrests and mood swings as media reports blame them for the destruction and violence. The wonderful Rade Sherbedzija provides an alternative – even ironic – perspective as Dr. Maric, who is fighting for lives in the developing world. Inside the convention centre, he defends his cause to uncaring bankers and trade representatives. His pleas become even less relevant to the room after the well-meaning protests outside become incandescent.
Noah Cowan, Toronto International Film Festival
Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta, André Benjamin, Rade Sherbedzija, Connie Nie