Battle in Seattle

In November 1999, the first inkling we had of any problems with the WTO Ministerial Meeting was when the Seattle Police Department commandeered the rooftop of my condominium as a vantage point for their SWAT force. Limos would deliver representatives from the various countries to the Paramount Theater and the Washington State Convention Center, just a stone's throw (...smile...) from our building. The Seattle PD was required to protect the dignitaries, so if they got to the rooftops first, it would leave no place for would-be assassins to set up shop.

First-time Writer/Director Stuart Townsend has made judicious use of actual news clips and cleverly shot Seattle street scenes to cobble together a fairly low-budget but chaotic movie about a chaotic time. In reading trade magazines, I see the critics are rating this movie everywhere from A- to a D+. I have to say that I fall right smack in there...somewhere...

As someone who had to cross police lines to get to work, I know the police were desperately understaffed; some of us brought them sandwiches because they went from 12 to 18 hours with nothing to eat or drink. According to Townsend's interpretation, the original organizers of the protest had made a pact with the mayor, here played by Ray Liotta ("The Rat Pack," "Wild Hogs" and "Heartbreakers"), to conduct a major -- peaceful --protest, then march to Seattle Center and hold a rally at Memorial Stadium. By the way, the police chief, the mayor and the governor all have fictitious names...to protect the innocent...

What no one knew, both in real life and in this screenplay, was that a group of anarchists had moved in and began smashing windows and vandalizing the streets of downtown Seattle. This was in direct violation of the pact and everything went downhill from there. As tear gas and billy clubs came into play, the National Guard was deployed and we became an armed camp. One of my granddaughters was trapped in the bank building where she worked, six blocks from the melee and tear gas was sucked in through the ventilation system. By the way, the anarchists were, in reality, some of the experienced anti-establishment rioters who made our lives a living hell in Eugene, Oregon in the late 60s, early 70s.

The weakness in Townsend's script centers around too many coincidences, e.g., a Seattle policeman, played by Woody Harrelson ("Transsiberia" and "No Country for Old Men") has just come from a doctor's appointment during which he gets his first hi-tech peek at his unborn child. His wife, played by Charlize Theron (an Academy Award for "Monster," plus "Hancock" and "Sleepwalking") is mildly conflicted about being pregnant, she thinks she might rather go to Brazil. While shopping for baby clothes, a store window is shattered. As she rushes out to try to get home, she gets caught up in the riots, is tear gassed and bludgeoned, whereupon she loses the baby.

Of course Harrelson and the charismatic leader of the pacifists have a face-to-face encounter (you'd think Seattle was about the size of Tombstone with only one main street); and when the hundreds of protesters are jailed, the charismatic leader and his latest "squeeze" just happen to be in adjacent cells so they can commiserate and hold hands. A television news personality opts to go to jail with the protesters rather than cover President Clinton's arrival at Boeing Field. ...Ya think???

Comic relief is supplied by André Benjamin. He sings "Don't worry; Be happy" while waiting to be booked in jail. While waiting to get out, he tells the charismatic pacifist, "Look at it this way. A week ago, people didn't know anything about the WTO. Now..." he pauses and laughs wryly, "...they still don't know anything about the WTO, but at least they know it exists!"

My sentiments exactly!