Certain to irk globalization adherents and adversaries alike, to say nothing of moviegoers impatient with multinarrative babble à la Babel, Battle in Seattle takes a worthy subject—the 1999 Emerald City WTO meeting successfully stalled by protests—and wraps it in a sudsy fictional framework. The intent may be to provide distance between topic and teller, but the result is more wishy-washy than neutrally clarifying.
The plot bounces between a group of protesters, led by a brooding hunk (Henderson) and his surly apostle (the grating Rodriguez); a well-meaning cop and his preggers wife (Harrelson and Theron, a match made in Hollywood do-gooder heaven); and, in the movie’s most interesting but least developed bit, a physician (Serbedzija) presenting at the disrupted conference. Ray Liotta also turns up as a ballistic make-believe Seattle mayor.
First-time screenwriter-director Stuart Townsend has a feel for rancor-raising action, and isn’t half bad at weaving together Battle’s intersecting threads. But the story’s melodramatic coincidences and dogged dedication to “balance” imply an uncomfortable eagerness to impose order on perceived chaos, and make inserted doc footage of the real WTO protests stand out like tear gas in a multiplex.