Battle In Seattle, Part I
In November 1999, I was involved in the anti-globalization (how I despise that term) *cough*movement*cough*. I was not in Seattle for the protests, though by sheer coincidence I was there a few weeks after visiting my friend and being accosted by prowling lawyers who took one look at my punk rock ass and thought that I might want to sue the city. Looking back, it was an odd time. It seemed that globalized resistance was truly on the rise, that we had the state and the multinational corporations alike on the defensive, and that change was possible. Obviously this was a naïve view, and less than two years later, September 11 would bring any sort of forward momentum in the Global North to a screeching halt. We also had a patronizing view of resistance movements in the Global South, not to mention a poor class analysis even within our own ranks, and what the hell, you’re reading this for scathing mockery of a terrible movie, not my analysis on what went wrong. But my point here, I guess, is to question why this movie was even made at all. The Battle of Seattle was a blip on the radar in terms of the history of activism, and a tactical dead end for the most part. Nor are mass protests in and of themselves particularly good material for filmmaking—they’re crowded, confusing, and even the most intelligent people tend to dumb it down to the point where they sound like utter morons. I don’t think that a good movie about the protests would be impossible, but it’s very unlikely, and Battle in Seattle sure as hell isn’t it.
Quite often when I watch crappy movies, it’s me and the cats in the solitude of my room, but fortunately for my sanity, this time around I had the lovely zingerella and captainmushroom suffering right along with me. I dedicate this review to them.
We begin with the Longest Credit Sequence Ever, wherein a narrator infodumps about the history of the WTO. It’s very educational. I was disappointed that the sign didn’t actually read “WTO-OMG.”
Sabotabby calls for a moratorium on info graphics in leftist movies. It’s even less appropriate in a theatrical release.
“We must stop these greedy bastards using the power of the internets!”
Let’s get my biases out of the way here. The politics in this movie are questionable and muddled, but not entirely abhorrent. My objections are largely aesthetic. An example is the date stamp, wherein they transform the full date into the abbreviations used by the anti-globalization movement to denote protests. God, it’s cheesy.
The movie itself begins with a hippie almost falling off a scaffold, which in itself is not a bad start. Of course, we know that no one during the protests died in the act of doing a banner-drop, or we would have seen it on the news. Which is another problem with this movie by the way: The events are a foregone conclusion for anyone old enough to have turned on a TV ten years ago.
Or, really, for anyone who has seen a movie, ever.
“Jay, she’s turtling!” one of the hippies yells out. I will put aside my annoyance with “turtle” being used as a verb long enough to point out that the turtle thing is a motif in the movie, and a rather heavy-handed one at that. Anyway, the hapless hippie, apparently a last-minute replacement for the person who was supposed to do the banner drop, is Lou, the Angry Latina.
She’s rescued by Jay, the ruggedly handsome not-so-fearless leader of the WTO protests, and subjected to some charmless flirtatious banter.
But will the banner drop be successful? I’m in suspense…
Oh wait, I’m not. See what I mean about foregone conclusions?
The only way they could have made a good movie would be to create characters that the viewer would care about. Instead, they created characters that the viewer would want to punch in the face. It’s an interesting strategy.
Jean, the Hapless Reporter, gives us some more infodumping.
Mayor Jim Tobin (a fictional character, by the way), watches forlornly as the hordes prepare to descend on his beloved city. The Chief of Police hands out dossiers on the protest ringleaders, who are, and I quote, “not anarchists as we originally thought.”
This was the point at which I knew for sure that the movie would suck.
Meanwhile, said protesters are interrupted by the triumphant entrance of Jay, who has completed his heroic banner-drop. They only applaud for him, incidentally, although at least three other people had a hand in it.
Okay, let’s meet our heroes.
Django, an impressive set of racist tropes given human form. He will henceforth be referred to as the Magical Negro Wacky Sidekick Turtle Guy. Well, no, I’m going to type Django because it’s shorter. But when you see his name, think “Magical Negro Wacky Sidekick Turtle Guy.”
He’s an environmentalist who has been arrested in four different countries for property damage. His main point in this movie is to say: “this shit is WACKED,” and dispense life advice to the white characters in the form of turtle analogies. That’s an impressive résumé but Jay’s is better.
Louise, of the earlier Rappel Fail. We find out that she’s essentially a Rebellious Rich Girl who burned down her father’s animal research lab, but wasn’t arrested. She’s also an ex-Black Bloccer, which you should pay attention to because this is the only time the phrase “Black Bloc” will be used throughout the movie.
Okay, I guess I should give the filmmaker some credit for that, because given the way the media covered the protests, the Black Bloc would be the obvious focal point. But instead they made all of the protagonists treehuggers. Really, really self-righteous treehuggers (are there other kinds?).
Next we get Samantha, who doesn’t have a criminal record as she’s a lawyer. She’s really angsty and conflicted but she only gets to speak in a couple scenes so we never learn why. She’s the only lawyer for the entire protest. Not very accurate but there you have it.
The other problem is that she looks a lot like Lou, at least in the crowd scenes, so it’s kind of confusing.
And you’ve already met Jay, the World’s Douchiest Environmentalist.
Jay: “Blah blah blah here is my war plan we are going to shut these intersections down, blah blah blah I am a great strategist. And how are we going to do it, minions?”
Jay: “And by consensus!”
Me: “I hate you.”
This film takes the very controversial stance that Violence is Bad. If you happened to harbour any pro-violence ideas, you will be convinced otherwise.
Oh, and Jay’s brother died very tragically in a Sequoia National Forest protest. Cue footage of Jay running through the forest, Big No-ing. Hmm, do you think Our Hero might have some baggage? I think he has some baggage.
Since then he’s been involved in “almost every major demonstration across the country.” Can someone explain how this is possible? Did he clone himself?
Clever Parallels are drawn between the protesters’ planning meeting and the planning meeting between the cops and the mayor. The police chief is all for setting up barricades and arresting people, but the mayor doesn’t want the city to look bad.
Oh, and they’re expecting several thousand protesters. LOL.
Jean and her Camera Guy are off to cover the protests. He’s listening to a news story on how the environment, labour rights, and Third World exploitation aren’t on the WTO’s agenda. She powders her nose, turns off the radio, and says she’s just after a good story. Someone is about to get humbled!
A cadaverous Woody Harrelson, inexplicably cast as a cop, holds the hand of his wife Ella as the technician tells her that she’s going to give birth to a very healthy baby in about four months.
Spoiler: She doesn’t.
Here we have one of the two people at the summit for altruistic reasons. This scruffy gentleman is Alex Merrick from Doctors Without Borders, and he’s here to try to get the WTO to change their policy of letting poor Africans die because they can’t afford AIDS medication.
Okay, have you stopped laughing yet? Here’s the other guy:
This is Nathan Abasi, an African ambassador trying to negotiate fairer trade and agricultural subsidies. Everyone is like “LOL agricultural subsidies” except Merrick who has no facial expression other than weary sadness.
The mayor gives a speech to the applauding protesters about how he used to be a protester too, during Vietnam, and he supports their right to free speech. Just…no violence, okay guys? You’re not going to be violent, are you? Are you?
What's wrong with his mouth? Does Ray Liotta's mouth actually look like that or is it makeup?
Well, it’s N30: the big day! Jay and Lou slept together. He’s all about the post-coital afterglow, she’s all: “ZOMG PROTESTING IS SRS BUSINESS GET OUT OF BED YOU LAZY HIPPIE.”
The cops engage in some manliness. Officer Woody gets excited about his Poor Doomed Fetus and how awesome its little fingers and little heart are.
Gosh, do you think his wife is going to have a miscarriage or something?
Lou and Jay engage in some post-sex, pre-protest banter as they lace up their Doc Martins. She’s deeply annoying. “Well, I used to be an animal rights activist, and then I was an anarchist, and now I don’t know what I am,” and you get the sense that all of these momentous ideological shifts probably occurred over the space of six months.
Jay just doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. Lou gets her one Crowning Moment of Not-Entirely-Stupid by reminding him that this is a mass demo, not tea and fucking croquet.
Lou: “Oooh, are you giving me your phone number?”
Jay: “No, I’m giving you Lawyer Samantha’s phone number for when you’re in jail.”
Lou: “Cockblocked again!”
I’m actually confused about which one of them is supposed to be more into the other. There’s the whole meet-cute thing at the beginning, but they then take turns actively disliking each other when the ahemplot demands it.
Mrs. Officer Woody works in a yuppie clothing store. She shows her co-worker ultrasounds of Poor Doomed Fetus and they squee together. She exposits that she hasn’t started buying any baby stuff, not even cute little baby shoes yet, which—SPOILER ALERT!—turns out to be not such a bad thing.
Motherfucking AFSCME is busting their balls cleaning up the fucking mess that those hard-ons at the WTO made of the fucking country. What does WTO stand for? Don’t fucking ask me. All I know is that we’re hardworkin’ taxpayers like you and we don’t take shit from nobody. Got that, asshole?
The plot is advanced through use of stock footage. You can tell because none of the protesters in these shots are as pretty as the leads. And also because the colour’s off, and the resolution is off, and you can tell that the reenactment scenes were filmed and the stock footage was videotaped.
The protesters cunningly get past the barricades by smuggling ladders in a giant papier maché Earth. IT'S ON, MOTHERFUCKERS.
The other annoying thing about Lou is that she makes an orgasm face regardless of what she’s doing. Apparently shutting down intersections gets her hot.
Okay, so anyway, they shut down all the intersections and no one can get into the WTO conference.
The mayor is informed that the protesters have cemented their arms together, and the only way to get the delegates through is to break some hippie arms. I’m not seeing the problem here.
The dialogue in this bit is great.
Mayor: I thought they were non-violent!
Police Chief: They’re not being violent.
Anyway, the only non-arm-breaking, non-capitulating-to-hippies option is to gas the protesters. The mayor puts up a token opposition, because he’s supposed to be deep and conflicted, and then says: “Do whatever you have to do, just do it fast.”
He seems to have gotten a little Pontius Pilate in his Rudy Guiliani.
Django gives an incoherent interview about sea turtles. Jean mentions that there might be some, you know, more important issues.
Django: Endangered species working class jobs outsourced environment shitty food connect the dots moron.
Jean: Um. Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to be connecting the dots?
He keeps talking, after she’s taken a call and walked off. Man, who elected this guy spokesperson for the protesters? He has no media savvy whatsoever.
Then everyone gets teargassed.
Django helps Lou. Screw the other protesters who are also getting teargassed. Their names don’t appear in the credits so we don’t care about them.
Meanwhile, the mayor is on the phone with the governor, who wants to call in the National Guard, like, yesterday.
The mayor whines: “But they’re non-violent!” As if anyone cares at this point.
The governor, inexplicably called John (the governor of Seattle in 1999 was Gary Locke; I looked it up), gives him two hours to clear the area using conventional police brutality.
As soon as the mayor gets off the phone, he’s informed that the WTO ceremonies have been cancelled. OH TEH NOES! Sad music plays.
Oh, and there’s also some stuff about the labour march and whether Jimmy Hoffa Jr. will join the protests or not, none of which makes any sense unless you already know what happened.
Stay tuned for the next installment, wherein Django is a furry.