Battle in Seattle (2007) Stuart Townsend

Production Budget: $8 million

Gross: $800,000

Battle in Seattle is about the protest of the WTO conference which was scheduled in Seattle in 1999.  It was one of the largest American protests bringing people from all different groups (labor organizers, religious groups, animal rights groups, anarchists, etc.) and had months of planning and preparation.

The movie states in the beginning that the events in the movie are real, but the characters (we follow five main characters) in the stories are completely fictional.  Originally the protest was supposed to be cooperative on both ends.  The mayor promised no police action as long as they stay outside a certain distance outside the zone where the conference would be held, and the protestors promised the action would be non-violent.  The problem came up when way more people than the city ever expected showed up and they were a little too effective in their campaign.  They promised to stay outside the zone; which they did.  However they blocked all entrances and roadways leading to the zone effectively shutting down the conference the first day.  The mayor (played in this movie by Ray Liotta) is in a bind.  He promised no police action but then again he never expected a reaction like this.

The mayor orders police action which starts a whole chain of events.  A group of anarchists (who were not a part of the organized protest) go on a spree of vandalism which then lead to a national state of emergency being called and the National Guard being brought in.  Hundreds were arrested (several cases dropped and subsequent lawsuits for Fourth Amendment violations) and millions in damages to the city.

As far as the factual information goes in this movie I don’t hear too much about inaccuracy.  That is, at least as far as I could research.  There is some quibbling about the portrayal of the anarchists.  They say anarchists were involved in all aspects of the protest (including the non-violent parts) and were painted with a broad brush as being violent and the sole cause of all the trouble.  I disagree that the movie paints all anarchists that way.  I just took it to be a group (completely separate from the organized portion) doing their own thing.  But other than that, I haven’t heard anything about the pure facts about the incident itself.

The problem comes with the main characters we follow.  This is also the issue with most of the critics I read.  The characters are the excuse to pile on sensationalism and Townsend’s political message.  I will just give a quick rundown of the main character stories we get.  Jay (Martin Henderson) is the head of the protest.  He is given some story about how his brother was killed by loggers and he protests to avenge his death or something.  Lou (Michelle Rodriguez) is just a love interest.  Oh and she is a badass chick because she has never played one before.  Django (Andre Benjamin) is there to protect the sea turtles.  Connie Nielsen is a hard boiled reporter getting the story.  Ray Liotta is not a rapist for once.  Woody Harrelson plays a cop with everything going right and Charlize Theron is his loving wife with a beautiful baby on the way and we are all happy and smiling and if you haven’t figured out the baby is a goner you haven’t seen many movies.

Let me get my most hated aspect of this movie out of the way.  I hated the Woody Harrelson storyline.  It is pure sensationalism and emotional manipulation on an epic scale.  So Theron’s character gets stuck in the riot and some cop comes out of nowhere and night sticks Theron in her pregnant belly.  It is a scene so random and ludicrous it is almost darkly funny.  I’ll admit, if a hell exists I’m going there because I let out a chuckle.  That is some of the dumbest and most poorly handled screenwriting in some time.  No one (at least to my knowledge) died or was seriously injured and it is a lame excuse to make the government EEEEEEEVIL and the protestors the supreme heroes.

The rest of the stories are actually good.  While at times they paint the protestors as infallible righteous avengers most of the time it is well done.  The people we meet are people that feel passionately about their issues and are trying to bring that issue to the attention to the public using their Constitutional right of non-violent expression.  While you may not agree with their message, you want everyone to have that right.  The main characters are well rounded people who you end up caring about by the end.

The acting is overall great.  Henderson does a good job of essentially carrying the movie.  Ray Liotta is surprisingly good as a well intentioned politician who gets way over his head in something he never expected.  Even Andre Benjamin is alright as a supporting character.  You get some other stars in this movie like Isaach De Bankole and Channing Tatum but they are in for so little that it doesn’t matter.  I also have to give credit that this looks like a big budget movie.  There are some big scenes that are well staged and Townsend puts archival footage to good use.  He really gets a lot out of the relatively small budget he has.

I thought I would hate this movie, but I actually ended up liking it.  This is not a documentary (in fact there are three if you want a pure factual account) and doesn’t try to be.  And while the story goes overboard at times with the melodrama I wasn’t really offended with anything other than the Harrelson plot.  I still can’t completely make a recommendation on this movie based on the flaws.  However for the crop of movies that are basically Direct to Video schlock which were limped out to four theaters for a theatrical release, this is one of the best efforts.   You could do a hell of a lot worse than picking up this movie.  This movie would have been pure gold if Toby from the West Wing pwned all of the protestors in a public debate.

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