Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Battle in Seattle

Review by David Tredler

Actors trying their hand at directing have become a common trend in Hollywood. In fact, it has been so for quite a while now.  But not all of them turn out to be as remarkable behind the camera as they were in front of it (meaning, not everyone is Clint Eastwood). Sometimes great actors disappoint as directors (Marlon Brando?) and  sometimes small actors find their true vocation behind the camera (Sydney Pollack).  Many actors who decide to leave the spotlight do so to offer themselves the roles producers won’t let them portray.

It is hard to decide in which category Stuart Townsend belongs, but it’s certainly not the last one, as he does not appear in his directorial debut. Yet the promising young Irish actor of the nineties (Shooting Fish, The Escort) has been almost nowhere to be seen in front of the camera these past few years. As if getting fired by Peter Jackson from the Lord of the Rings trilogy (he was replaced by Viggo Mortensen to play Aragorn) had doomed his career as an actor ever since (his higher-profile roles were in Queen of the Damned and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, nothing to be proud of).

The Irish thespian was one of the last people we would have expected to direct a film concentrating on the infamous 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Yet he did. Battle in Seattle focuses on a dozen or so people involved in the manifestation: protesters preparing their peaceful movement, cops commissioned to supervise the security, journalists covering the event, foreign participants to the WTO coming for help, and the Mayor of Seattle (Ray Liotta) trying to deal with it all. We all remember what happened next: a predictable and badly-managed wave of violence that shocked the world.

Townsend did not choose the easy way to direct his first film. He took a controversial subject and filled it with a multitude of characters from all possible sides of the event, all condensed into 100 minutes. Battle in Seattle could have been a remarkable film directed by Stuart Townsend, had the young filmmaker chosen to focus at little harder, to trim down the characters a bit (like, for example, write out the one he offered his girlfriend Charlize Theron, the pregnant wife of a cop who gets unexpectedly thrown into the middle of the violent riots). Townsend may have thought that storyline would humanize the cops’ vantage point, but it only brings unnecessary pathos to the film. The pure, rough depiction of the events is more interesting than the weak fictionalization Townsend attempts.

Battle in Seattle is still, by many aspects, a remarkable film. By its courage to handle the delicate subject of globalization, by its ambition to raise a voice of anti-capitalism, by its desire to embrace a message of peace and liberalism. It is interesting to note that a European chose to tackle these events and put them on film. Would the point of view have been different with an American eye?  I can only wonder.

2 ½ / 5 stars

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