In Woody Allen's Bananas, a group of American soldiers are being airlifted to the mythical Latin American country of San Marcos in order to quell a revolution. One soldier asks another which side they are fighting for and he responds, "This time the CIA is not taking any chances; some of us are for and some are against." This political bedlam is reflected in actor Stuart Townsend's hot-wire Battle in Seattle, when one cop muses to another, "Let me get this straight. Yesterday we were not supposed to arrest anybody. Now, we're supposed to arrest everybody."
Battle in Seattle is a high-octane depiction of the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle, Washington in late November 1999, where motives and duties are contradictory, confused, and unsettled. The non-violent protest groups end up embroiled in the very violence they abhor. Seattle Mayor Tobin (Ray Liotta) wants to appeal to the law-and-order police and to the protestors. (The night before the demonstrations he shows up both at a rally for the WTO and a rally against the WTO.) The law enforcement officials attempt to maintain the peaceful protest while at the same time chafing at the bit and waiting to crack heads. When violence erupts at the WTO protests, all the groups scatter and run blindly in all directions, and the National Guard appears to mop it all up.
Townsend attains a nice electric rhythm in charting the days of bitter rioting and violence by both police and protesters, the violence creeping up unnoticed, until it smacks you in the head with force and unreason. Battle in Seattle seamlessly integrates dramatic recreations and dramatizations into actual television news footage, infusing the film with a kinetic charge.
Unfortunately, when Townsend delves from his Battle of Algiers reportage of the events, the film becomes hoary, moldy, and clichéd. Woody Harrelson is on hand as Dale, a cop with pregnant wife Ella (Charlize Theron), both so happy to be expectant parents that you just know something is going to go wrong and that it's going to have something to do with the WTO. There is protest organizer Jay (Martin Henderson), hounded by the cynical Lou (Michelle Rodriguez) with such fervor that you know it's really love. There is Jean (Connie Nielsen), the newswoman with a Jane Fonda-in-The China Syndrome zeal, making an impassioned stand with the protestors and getting clubbed on the head for her troubles. And there is Mayor Tobin, waffling so much and trying so hard to be everybody's best friend that you know that ultimately he will get his comeuppance. All of these story threads are woven together with story arcs that were old in the days of D.W. Griffith. One expects to see Lillian Gish rocking a cradle in front of Starbucks.
But the melodramatic chestnuts are just for starters. To hammer the point home, Townsend, infused with Stanley Kramer zeal, has his puppet characters spouting pabulum and orating to the skies. Each character has his or her particular Kramer epiphanies like "I know you want to make a difference" or "My brother's blood is on your hands" -- the best of which is the roundhouse declaration, "How can they keep putting themselves on the line like that for a cause they can't win?"
The only actor to escape all the hot air is Andre Benjamin, playing laconic protestor and animal rights fanatic Django, the one voice of reason in the shrill air, whose manner of diffidence and unpretentiousness puts him above all the sincerity in this mad, mad, mad, mad pack of overly sincere thespians. Hauled off to prison in a police van with the other grim-faced protestors, Benjamin, our man in Seattle, simply opens his yap and says, "Don't worry. Be happy." Meanwhile, the other actors fight for breathing room. Benjamin's performance makes one reconsider Outkast real fast.
Twentysomething mutant ninja turtles.