Just in case you’re too dense to understand “Battle in Seattle,” director-writer Stuart Townsend bookends his film with two lectures about the evils of the World Trade Organization and globalization. Corporate suits are killing the planet with their soullessness, man! Poor people are dying around the world, brother! Democracy has been crushed under the heel of capitalism!
“Battle in Seattle” is a childish, ineffectively manipulative piece of self-serious agitprop about the four-day World Trade Organization meetings that took place in Seattle in the closing months of 1999. Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez and Andre Benjamin star as angelic protesters/free speech martyrs. Ray Liotta is the put-upon mayor of Seattle desperately trying to maintain control as his city descends into chaos. Ed Harris and Charlize Theron are a couple with a baby on the way.
Although the film is “inspired by real events,” none of the characters are real people. Nor do they feel like real people; they might as well be named Good Protester One, Two and Three, Mayor, and Distressed Couple. Add in Thuggish, Evil Cops, and that’s the majority of the cast.
Mr. Townsend’s film goes to great lengths to argue that the majority of protesters in Seattle at the time were peaceniks engaged in nothing more dangerous than blocking intersections; it was a small minority of anarchists - whom our sympathetic protesters hated, natch - who were the troublemakers.
The anarchists and the pigs are busy tear-gassing innocent, innocuous protesters, of course.
The main thematic problem with “Battle in Seattle” is that, like the protesters it lionizes, it doesn’t really care about the challenges globalization presents. It’s more interested in sloganeering (“Isn’t it time that people mattered more than profit?” one activist arguing for cheap medicine shouts at an uncaring roomful of bureaucrats) and glorifying protest for the sake of protest rather than examining solutions.
What did all of these protests accomplish? Nothing, as the lecture accompanying the closing credits informs. Yet more action is promised at future meetings.
Globalization inevitably creates problems, and the WTO is far from perfect. However, ignoring, as “Battle in Seattle” does, the tangible benefits free trade has provided - rising wages and better jobs for the international working class, increased quality of life abroad and cheaper goods at home - is intellectually dishonest and makes for an annoying, laughably unserious film.
TITLE: “Battle in Seattle”
RATING: R for language and some violence
CREDITS: Written and directed by Stuart Townsend
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
WEB SITE: www.battleinseattlemovie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
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