Battle in Seattle

by Rick Grant
B+ / Rated R / 96 min
This is writer/director Stuart Townsend’s fictionalized documentary film chronicling the disastrous 1999 WTO conference in Seattle. Just prior to the WTO meeting, a labor protest commingled with the WTO activists creating a violent citywide riot that shut down the WTO conference. Mob rule took over. And there was a Battle In Seattle.
Ray Liotta portrays the beleaguered Mayor Tobin who did everything possible to avoid the protests from getting out of hand. Alas, the original peaceful WTO protest was crashed by anarchists and labor troublemakers. Consequently, it escalated into a bloody confrontation between Seattle police and the rioters.
Townsend tells the story from all points of view and shows how the best intentions of city leaders can quickly evolve out of control. Woody Harrelson plays one of the cops, Dale who has to face the protestors. His wife, Ella (Charilize Theron-Townsend’s wife) works downtown at a high end department store. When the riots get ugly, she gets trapped in the crowd. She is gassed, and clubbed in the midsection by one of her husband’s colleagues. Unfortunately, she is pregnant and the blow causes her to go into premature labor.
A sympathetic news reporter Jean (Connie Nielsen) helps Ella get to the hospital. This causes Jean to rethink her personal views on the protest movement. She goes from reporter to participant and is subsequently arrested. This sequence seemed to be contrived. It’s unlikely that a high profile newswoman would sacrifice her career to become part of the news.
The script cleverly involves the characters in the main event-the riot–either directly or indirectly. Martin Henderson plays Jay, the leader of the WTO protest. He wanted to keep the protest non-violent, but it was not to be. Jay’s girlfriend, Lou (Michelle Rodriguez) is completely committed to the cause but is war weary. Since Jay is a three-time felon, he doesn’t plan to get arrested because he would be subject to the three-strikes law and he could go to prison for life. However, as the protest escalates out of control, Jay is beaten up by Dale, who is worried about his wife and fed up with the riot and his job as a riot control officer.
Yes, emotions run high in this mob scene, as the cops lose control and bash heads with their clubs. Interestingly, the pre-9/11 issues of global warming, sweatshop labor, starvation and AIDs in Africa seem to be lumped into the protest against the WTO-a global body that meets behind closed doors to make policy for world commerce without regard for human rights.
Townsend’s script sides with the WTO protesters. Of course, post 9/11 and the Patriot Act pushed the concern for global human rights aside. But, the film’s portrayal of the WTO protesters skewers their moniker “tree huggers.” In other words, Townsend took the time to develop these characters into caring human beings whose belief in their cause is righteous. Viewers see them as concerned citizens not destructive anarchists.
Jennifer Carpenter plays Sam, the WTO protester’s lawyer. Viewers will recognize Carpenter as Dexter’s sister, Detective Debra Morgan in Dexter on Showtime. Carpenter as Sam has a key scene with Ray Liotta as Mayor Tobin. She convinces Mayor Tobin that he should release the protesters from jail to get rid of the lingering mob who were protesting the jailing of their colleagues. The WTO conference had already been canceled, so it was in his best interest to free the protesters post haste.
Overall, Townsend’s film is exciting and poignant. It gets its message across in the contest of the storyline without being preachy. It’s well worth viewing.