Battle in Seattle

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Posted September 24, 2008 in Film

Ten years ago, the biggest boogieman was the World Trade Organization. Now, people rage against more—but like a black widow, the WTO remains at the center of the web, its sticky threads that controlling 90% of the world’s economy stretching out to everything from oil to outsourcing. Actor Stuart Townsend, here making his writing and directing debut, brings us back to 1999 when the “global government,” as he terms it, was boneheaded enough to schedule a conference in Seattle, a move akin to opening a Wal-Mart next to Bin Laden’s cave. (They wised up—the next convention was in Qatar.) Townsend’s passion about the chaos in Seattle clearly runs deeper than his shallow script. When his characters—including Ray Liotta’s conscience-torn mayor, Woody Harrelson as a cop and father-to-be with Charlize Theron, Ivana Milicevic as a newscaster, and Andre Benjamin, Michelle Rodriguez, and Martin Henderson as activists—collide, the smashup is neatly symbolic when we want the messy swirl of conflicting emotions. A scene where Benjamin prevents a doctor lobbying to reduce the AIDS epidemic from entering the convention center is frisson without depth. The Crash of global corruption, Battle in Seattle is most inspiring in its throwaway moments: documentary footage of police tear-gassing peaceful protesters, blue-collar laborers marching for fair competition (only to be drowned out of the media by a handful of kids smashing up the Gap). But Townsend mistakenly thinks we give a damn about Rodriguez and Henderson’s irritating romance when the film would be better served by facts, outrage, and complexity. What really derailed the WTO’s Seattle talks, beyond the PR mess, was when cast aside African nations realized they had the power to force a stalemate—a pivotal moment that Townsend has the sense to touch upon before the closing title cards concede that despite everything, nothing’s improved. In a time of catastrophic inertia, the unasked question is: Should we give up or try harder? (Amy Nicholson)

 


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