“Battle in Seattle”
Redwood Palms Productions
At the Michigan Theater
3.5 out of 5 stars
Capitalism has failed: the rich get richer, and the poor just die. In poor countries, is making that extra buck more important than saving a human life? Is it worth keeping the price of medicine high enough to exclude the millions who can’t afford it while ensuring steady profits for shareholders living comfortably in Europe or the United States?
“Battle in Seattle” brings these opinions to the table by heavily criticizing capitalism, specifically the policies and actions of the World Trade Organization the international body that establishes trading policies between many different countries. Acting as an insightful and compelling drama, the film caters to people with varying opinions of the aforementioned topics (and of the WTO), but also splices in documentary footage to highlight some of the film’s most important messages.
By focusing on the protests during the 1999 WTO conference in Seattle, “Battle” portrays the WTO as an image of debauched capitalism. Jay (Martin Henderson, “Smokin’ Aces”) is the leader of a nonviolent protest group working against the WTO. His martyr-like devotion to the cause, while never fully explained, is motivated by past and personal issues. Marching alongside him is his faithful partner, Django (André Benjamin, “Semi-Pro”). The performance from both individuals is nothing spectacular, but Benjamin at least provides some much-needed humor in an otherwise weighty movie.
The plot is simple. The evil WTO is planning on meeting, and a group of protesters march to prevent the conference. But there are also several little side stories entwined in the movie. Ultimately, these stories provide a solid backbone to the social commentary and criticism the movie aspires to achieve. This technique is eerily reminiscent of previous works such as “Crash” and “Babel” that use individual stories to weave together an intricate plot exploring deeper issues. The problem with the way “Battle” handles this is the abundance of burdensome dialogue throughout the film. Much of it is important, but the plot and the actions are much more interesting and get across the same message.
Stuart Townsend (“Chaos Theory”), normally an actor, may have been too ambitious with his directorial debut, and his inexperience shows from time to time. “Battle” tries to do what both “Crash” and “Babel” did marvelously, but falls a few steps behind.
On that note, the movie would have benefited with elaboration on a few of the stories. Devoting more time to the characters’ trials and less time to showing police brutality would surely have made the movie better. There are many repetitive scenes showing the armor-clad police shoving tear gas in protesters’ faces. Clearly, the repetition is aimed at gaining sympathy for the protesters (and it works to a certain extent), but seeing the same images again and again becomes a nuisance.
Despite of the film’s shortcomings, Townsend does a good job in his directorial debut. There are so many powerful images — the desperate lobbyist begging fpr the attention of indifferent reporters for one — that produce a great deal of emotion. In certain moments, the characters’ struggles seem so real and so close that it’s easy to see why the WTO is the center of hate in the movie. If you don’t know what the WTO is, the movie will certainly fill you in. If you do, then you’ll see that the movie is clearly biased. But it still affords a side of the story that you probably never thought of.