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Battle in Seattle

By Jeff Meyers | Posted 10/1/2008

An admitted attempt to emulate Haskell Wexler's brilliant Medium Cool, Stuart Townsend's directorial debut boasts an undeniable visceral intensity as it follows the five days of protests and riots that accompanied the 1999 World Trade Organization convention in Seattle. But unlike Wexler, who shot during 1968 Democratic National Convention's madness, Townsend stitches together compelling archival footage of the "first internet protest in history" with his mediocre Hollywood ensemble drama: the dogged TV news reporter (Connie Nielsen), a trio of earnest protest leaders (André Benjamin, Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez), the beleaguered mayor (Ray Liotta), a few troubled delegates, and a police officer (Woody Harrelson) whose pregnant wife (Charlize Theron) gets caught between the protesters and overzealous riot cops. Townsend shines with his city-under-siege sequences, matching documentary footage with convincingly staged character moments. There's a real sense of danger as crowds of do-gooders and armies of helmeted police square off. It's too bad then that the characters' personal moments are so hackneyed and unconvincing, and most damning is the director's inability to articulate why the WTO is so bad. Battle in Seattle earns the rare honor of being an "issue" movie that forgets to tell the audience what the issues are--which is funny, because this is what the real-life protesters failed to convey to the general public.

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