Fight the power

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Actor-turned-filmmaker Stuart Townsend had high ground in mind for Battle in Seattle, an ensemble dramatization of the massive protests surrounding the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization.

He meant to follow the path of Medium Cool, Haskell Wexler's multifaceted view of the incendiary 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. But Townsend ends up closer to another actor-turned-director's recreation of a moment in history, Bobby. Like Emilio Estevez's group portrait of the JFK assassination, this one ends up losing much of the power of its chosen moment.

The chaotic events of the WTO's stay in Seattle are shown through a group of organized, non-violent protesters led by Martin Henderson; the city's under-pressure mayor (Ray Liotta); a cop trying to keep the peace (Woody Harrelson); his innocent bystander wife (Townsend's real-life partner Charlize Theron); a TV reporter in the middle of the action (Connie Nielsen); and a Doctors Without Borders representative (Rade Serbedzija) who comes to the meeting seeking medicine and finds himself marginalized not just by corporate powers dominating the WTO, but also the protesters.

There's a lot of earnest good intent here, also a smart primer on the WTO and why many consider it scarily big and powerful, and Townsend has an interesting, talented cast in his service (Harrelson and Theron are especially good). Yet an emotional involvement is elusive because, as the movie tries hard to gain our understanding, our tears and cries of outrage, it never loses the feeling of a careful, politically correct construction.