Woody Harrelson and Charlize Theron share a dramatic moment in Battle In Seattle.
BATTLE IN SEATTLE written and directed by Stuart Townsend, with Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson and André Benjamin. 98 minutes. An Alliance Films release. Opens Friday (October 17). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
Having struggled for years to be known as something other than that Irish actor who kind of looks like Jude Law, Stuart Townsend makes a confident debut as a writer/director with Battle In Seattle, a fictional recreation of the 1999 World Trade Organization riots.
The anti-globalization protests surrounding the WTO conference were supposed to be the usual affair, with the giant puppets and the chanting of accusatory slogans and maybe a couple of screeds against Starbucks and its agenda of global domination. The protesters had pledged non-violence; the authorities would keep a respectful distance.
It didn't hold. Civil protest became civil disobedience, which triggered violence, which brought the police forces down on the people like a sledgehammer. Townsend presents the descent into chaos as an uncontrollable force that just rolls right over well-intentioned people on every side - delegates, demonstrators, journalists, city officials, riot cops and ordinary citizens.
Battle In Seattle restages the crisis on the streets of Vancouver quite effectively; its casting sense is similarly sharp. André Benjamin emerges as the most charismatic of the protesters, and Rade Serbedzija brings the appropriate gravity to a small role as a WTO delegate trying to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders. Charlize Theron (Townsend's offscreen partner) and Woody Harrelson get the juiciest personal stories as a couple at the centre of the chaos.
The only off note is a coda that finds Townsend taking a moral position on the story he's just told. The film is so balanced and apolitical up to that point that such a statement feels unnecessary. But I guess we can cut the guy some slack - this is his first time out, after all.