Battle in Seattle

A decade after the events that gave us the name took place, along comes this deeply disappointing movie. Battle in Seattle is a fictional account of four days at the heart of the anti-WTO protests. It is, to some extent, a vanity project of Charlize Theron and her husband, Stuart Townsend, who wrote and directed the movie. There is an aspiration to be something like the wonderful Bloody Sunday, a docudrama that shows both sides (or multiple sides) of a dispute in a gritty street-level drama.

But it ends up being an object lesson in the perils of a certain kind of earnest polemical film-making. This is one big cliche, from the absurd story of pregnant Theron (who appears to work in a high end clothing store) in love with riot cop, played by Woody Harrelson, then losing the child during the riots, to tokenistic accounts of HIV campaigners and developing countries finding themselves sidelined by the mayhem. We even get a local reporter deciding to end her career by appearing on camera, surrounded by protesters, silent with tape over her mouth. Why? We get a vague non-violent message, in which the anarchists are as culpable as the police, but there is never a political debate to test our assumptions. Worse, one of the anarchists is implied to be a police agent, as if that solves the dilemma. There is nary a political or human issue that cannot be briefly milked prior to being checked off some list of politically relevant stories. Every issue is humanized in such a way as to ensure it is ultimately made banal. Poor old Ray Liotta, as Seattle’s mayor, looks perpetually bewildered, but it is not the massive scale of the protest that provokes bewilderment so much as the utter stupidity of the part he is forced to play.

This is what gives the Left a bad name. Is it really so hard to tell this genuinely important story without melodrama and cheap theatrics? I guess it is my fault for wanting so badly to like this.

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