Saturday, April 04, 2009

Battle In Seattle

Police Brutality

The fears of peaceful protesters turning the situation ugly would raise alarm bells for the authorities here. After all, there is little guarantee that there are no bad apples in a barrel, so I guess a more hard-lined stance was adopted to prevent damage of anarchic proportions that would cost us needless millions of dollars in repair bills. Then of course you have the issue about civil liberties versus the need to maintain the peace and the never ending debate on which is more important.

I suppose the key word has always been Responsibility. Granted that there are countless of NGOs both local and international, each with their own political agenda that they want to see through, and coordination amongst all representatives would prove to be a logistical nightmare, especially if some amongst the lot do not subscribe to the non-violent mantra, allowing emotions to get high and out of control and permitting the situation to degenerate into violent protesting. Then the authorities would also get tempted to nip the problem at the bud through applying direct force, and a vicious circle would be created.

A film like this for the local audience might seem a little fascinating, whether through a united front as demonstrated (pardon the pun) could get our own little interests pushed through and heard by the masses. We've come a long way since the last riots experienced in the country, and we definitely wouldn't want to go back to those days. There are avenues to seek redress or you get your message heard, and like scarce resources, there's always the question of wanting more, the never-ending push and negotiations for own own agendas to be met.

Being the directorial debut of actor Stuart Townsend, he presented a neat tale based on the historical protests at the WTO Ministerial Conference in 1999, where the Seattle authorities had underestimated the numbers of protesters in attendance, their tactics, and the strategies adopted. It's a very clear case of being blind-sided, and the panic response as meted out through the police, when stripped away of the uniform, are also humans who have been given the mandate for violence, where primal instincts in a mob at both ends clash, with one side possessing non-lethal tools for crowd dispersion, letting it all rip in order to carry out instructions.

Townsend's screenplay takes a more sympathetic stance toward the protesters actually, where the bulk of the film is spent in highlighting the police violence and the plight of the poor protesters having to endure their rights being stripped away. I would have enjoyed the movie more should it shift from this particular angle, and focused more on the bigger issues like how developing nations feel they're being exploited under WTO, which promises a lot more than the defunct GATT it replaces. Or how through creative drafting of laws would prove to be potential stumbling blocks for poorer countries. Granted there could be no answers to this and definitely not from this film, but these issues were addressed rather fleetingly, and may have given a feeling that they were not as important as the struggles of those who want to make their voices heard.

It had a slick opening credits scene which blurs the line between drama and documentary, and fused into the narrative were also real clips of actual protesting some 10 years ago, which looked really like a carnival with colourful pickets and the chanting of catchy slogans. It had relied on a slew of recognizable names like Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Carpenter, Andre Benjamin, Ray Liotta, Connie Nielsen, and Channing Tatum, amongst many others, in representing viewpoints from those holding political office, to the police, protesters, foreign dignitaries, right down to the innocent bystander, on how this sequence of events would affect their lives both on the professional and personal levels.

Not a bad strategy of course, but probably biting more than it can chew, most of the characters turn out to be nothing more than a caricature of whatever they're representing, which is a pity because there was a lot of avenue to present that "People Versus Profit" issue which one of the characters had questioned. Instead it chose to play up the more action-like bits, leaving little moments where you can contemplate on the larger issues.

Then again, the title had said it all. It's a Battle, and it did enough to pique one's interest to read more about the event itself, as well as the outcome of subsequent Ministerial Meets around the world. If it's to serve as a platform for general issue awareness, then Battle in Seattle would have met that purpose.

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