If activism, like globalism, sometimes becomes unruly, activism about globalism must have dramatic potential. Hence Battle in Seattle, in which actor Stuart Townsend makes his screenwriting and directing debut, with a docudrama about the five days of riots that disrupted Seattle‘s World Trade Organization conference in 1999.
The filmmaker’s sympathies lie with the activists, here portrayed by Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez and Outkast’s André Benjamin–a scene stealer for his warmth and dignifying charisma. Townsend’s not skeptical enough to admit that social protest has become a glamour profession, but before you can accuse him of being a part of that problem by stocking his movie with shimmering stars, consider his clever way of casting against type: Charlize Theron plays a bourgeois pregnant woman who remains aloof from the melee until it literally hits her in the gut; Woody Harrelson is her husband, a riot-busting cop whose rage pushes him over a line and then leaves him racked with guilt; and Ray Liotta is fictional mayor Jim Tobin (standing in for real Seattle mayor Paul Schell), whose faith in free assembly erodes as he sees his city descend into a state of emergency.
Braiding brief snippets of these automatically suspenseful storylines with archival video footage of the actual event, Townsend makes a good point that the thing just got away from all involved. His narrative might seem contrived, but his compassionate stance is not: Battle in Seattle calls for benevolence amid hysteria, which seems like the right way forward into the ongoing morass of globalization.