Battle in Seattle

I watched this at opening night of the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival. Many of the actors (including Charlize Theron) attended the screening and participated in a question and answer session afterward. It played previously at the Toronto Film Festival last summer, and in some other venues. It’s currently scheduled for a general USA release in September of 2008.

If you lived or worked in downtown Seattle during that week of 1999, or were one of the WTO protesters, or just loathe the WTO in general, then this may be a movie for you. It was a good choice for opening night, because a Seattle audience is uniquely equipped to energize such a screening. And, it was a fun experience (the movie, not the riots). But, now I will review what I’ve been avoiding saying for the past couple of weeks.

The film is a mess. Good intentions aside, the story is chronologically told in an ominous and overly dramatic style that doesn’t befit the actual events. The filmmaker splices a generous portion of archival news footage into the movie, but in a way that made the film feel choppy and fractured. I know that parts of Battle in Seattle were shot in Vancouver BC, but the contrast of Seattle and Vancouver streets only made it feel that much more fractured. There are some competent acting talents cast in this film, but they’re grossly underutilized.

The reporter: reminded me of a magnetized pinball, bouncing from scene to scene, attracted to flashpoints in the conflict. The mayor: came across like a deer caught in someone’s headlights, over and over again, I kept expecting him to pull a bottle from his desk drawer and start drinking. The governor: was a good portrayal of an angry, mob boss.

This film felt much like a 2 hour, network television show, complete with at least three peripheral love lines. See it if you must, but if the WTO is what really interests you, avoid this movie and spend some time researching that organization and the 1999 Ministerial Conference on your own.

WTO Seattle Collection (at UW)
WTO History Project (at UW)
WTO Accountability Review Committee (at City of Seattle)

It would be nice to see a good documentary of the 1999 riots. Perhaps in a format of half archival footage and half interviews with city officials, demonstrators and residents. Perhaps sprinkled with an in-depth look into the architecture and impacts of the WTO. Perhaps a non-biased look at the events (if that’s even possible).

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2008
Language: English
Genre: Drama