written and directed by Stuart Townsend, the man most famous for being replaced in the role of Aragorn by Viggo Mortensen in The Lord Of The Rings, there is alot about this worthy if slightly pretentious film that doesn’t really work. for starters, its cast is a mishmash of the talented (Ray Liotta, Woody Harrelson), the pretty (Ivana Milicevic, Channing Tatum, Connie Nielsen) and the talented/pretty (Charlize Theron, Andre Benjamin, Michelle Rodriquez, Martin Henderson). Townsend attempts to set up a Magnolia/Short Cuts style of intercutting storylines, set against the backdrop of a meeting of the World Trade Organisation.
which runs into another problem. as Townsend himself has admitted in interviews, he had very little knowledge of what caused the tension, and sparked off the eventual riots that brought Seattle to its knees. and this is an ignorance that alot of his audience will most likely share. and while the central story itself is worthy, Townsend forgoes telling it by adding a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie: “While the setting of this movie is factual, all the characters and events therein are fiction.”
so while anyone hoping for a documentary-esque story will be disappointed, the fictional stories themselves are quite involving. Theron is a 5 months pregnant store assistant, who’s finds herself in ground zero when the riots kick off. she is the wife of Harrelson, a riot police officer, partnered with Tatum. they have been told by mayor Liotta that they are not to make any arrests whatsoever. that is until Henderson, Benjamin and Rodriguez, three ringleaders of a non-violent activist group, get caught up with a Labour strike, as well as semi-terrorist factions, and everything begins to descend into chaos. which is being all caught on camera by Nielson, and being viewed by the world, Seattle is put under a state of emergency…..
gripping stuff, non? unfortunately, Townsend can’t help tripping into cliched territory, and doesn’t have anything approaching the budget that would be required to truly show the damage that was inflicted upon the city, resorting instead to cutting to actual footage of the carnage that was shot on the day. but thats not to say that Townsend doesn’t know what he’s doing. he gets uniformly excellent performances from everyone involved (including some we didn’t know had such acting depths), and does a half decent job of making a very confusing and lengthy story quite digestable and compact (although, at only 100 minutes, the film does feel quite rushed). he even manages to create some very tense scenes (Theron trying to escape the riot filled city centre, constantly caught on the edge of a violent crowd, are some of the most nail-biting minutes of cinema in recent memory). but, again due to its length, Townsend doesn’t have equal share for everyone, and some stories are left hanging, some characters disappear for 30 or 40 minutes at a time, and some of the character connections are slighly contrived.
so, while flawed in many ways, the film is definitely recommended. for those who have no idea what the Battle In Seattle was about (as said in the film itself, it sounds like “a monster truck rally”), its a good starting point for getting to know what happened. and for those who know all too well what it was about, there are a number of good actors in interesting stories directed by a first-timer showing alot of potential.
seven out of ten.