Battle in Seattle
NBattle in Seattle is actor Stuart Townsend’s debut as
both a writer and a director. Choosing the 1999 Seattle World Trade
Organisation riots is a brave choice, one where both sides must be
examined to see what led to the tragedy of that day. So does Townsend
pull it off, is he a triple threat? In parts, as Battle in Seattle is
definitely a mixed bag.
As mentioned before it concerns the events during the 1999 riots, where
non violent protestors marched the streets and blocked the processes for
the WTO summit. Some protestors got out of hand, before the situation
escalated to a point where the police deployed physical force and tear
gas to break them down. The city was put under curfew as things
worsened, and the summit was eventually cancelled. The event was largely
forgotten, especially outside of the USA and especially since the events
of September 11, yet is still an important issue for many. Battle in
Seattle is part documentary and part drama, as it deals with fictional
characters during the very real situation. Townsend mixes in real life
footage of the riots to paint a more immersive and realistic picture.
The direction is rather accomplished for a first timer. The intent is
obviously to place the viewer in the event, not watch it from afar.
There is lots of handheld camera work that really gets this feeling
across. The handheld work is really well done, from following the
protestors to the news camera man following around the reporter. It does
immerse and makes it feel like a documentary capturing all the action.
The splicing of real footage also helps, as it is fairly seamless. It is
obvious when it is put in, but not jarring and never takes the viewer
out of the film. Instead it enhances it, and gives the film more
The failing point though, is in the writing. The characters are not
particularly well developed, and are more just stock characters. We have
the protestors who want to save the world, the emotionally wrecked cop,
and the frazzled city mayor thrown together. The lack of development
wouldn’t matter if they helped the story or were entertaining to watch,
but they are often not. Is the viewer supposed to care about a poorly
cobbled together romance during all the relevant happenings of the film?
It seems like it was thrown in to pad the film, and give the actors
something more to do than spout various clichés about saving the planet,
just doing their jobs and so on. The performances are decent enough but
none really elevate the rather boring script, and some characters,
particularly Django (Andre Benjamin) are just plain annoying to watch.
Woody Harrelson and Charlize Theron are given the meatiest story, about
a wife losing her baby when a riot police officer punches her during the
commotion. These characters are the ones that viewers will care for
most, but their impending tragedy is telegraphed right from their first
scenes, so it doesn’t hit as hard as it could.
It also doesn’t help that the issues are never really explained clearly.
Obviously Townsend feels strongly about the subject, but apart from
having his main characters say that what they are doing will save the
world a couple of times, the viewer never really knows why the world
needs saving. A quick prologue that explains the WTO is all we get,
before being hit over the head with the fact that they are bad without
telling us why. Only one side of the issue is examined, and not examined
particularly well. At one point Django says that no one in the public
even knows what the WTO does, and watching this film will not leave the
viewer any clearer.
So a triple threat Townsend is not, but there are glimpses of promise,
especially in the direction which shows genuine innovation. The writing
mostly fails, although there are a couple of scenes where Townsend
manages to get his point across and make the characters interesting.
Battle in Seattle is an interesting look at a subject that obviously
deserves an examination. If this examination was more thorough it would
come highly recommended, but as it stands the film falls in the area
where it needs the most attention. Perhaps Townsends next film will
improve upon this, as he clearly has quite a few ideas up his sleeve.
The disc contains no special features