Battle in Seattle



Political ensemble drama is provocative, preachy.
  • Review Date: September 17, 2008
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 98 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Extensive discussion of the nature of political protest, the World Trade Organization, corporate ownership of property, and the nature of global capital; extensive discussion of First Amendment rights and violent vs. non-violent protest.


Destruction of private property; police response to protestors includes pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, beatings with truncheons, and more. A pregnant woman is struck in the stomach with a truncheon by a passing policeman; viewers see her agony, blood, and suffering as she loses the baby. Protesters are pepper-sprayed at close range and with great vigor by police. An accidental death is often referenced but takes place off screen.


Morning-after chat between two lovers; kissing; some sexual language.


Occasional strong language includes "damn," "hell," "f--k," "s--t," and "motherf---er." Police are referred to as "pigs."


Some brands -- like Starbucks -- are visible in the background.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One character smokes; characters drink hard liquor.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this drama about the volatile environment in Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999 features realistic depictions of political protest, from putting up unauthorized banners to street marching and blockading intersections. The police response to some of these protests is equally realistic, ranging from tear gas and pepper spray to brutal beatings. Teens may not be clamoring to see a movie that features extensive discussion of political and economic issues like free speech and free trade, but if they see it, they may find themselves interested in learning more about the topics it raises. Expect some swearing, smoking, and drinking.

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What's the story?

In 1999, the World Trade Organization meets in Seattle to initiate the "Millennium Round" of talks on everything from international tariffs and environmental policy to patent protection and trade agreements. A group of protestors -- rejecting the WTO as anti-democratic, pro-big business, and anti-labor -- also gathers to disrupt the conference and draw the world's attention to their position. As the film unfolds over several days, parties on all sides -- protestors, police, politicians, press, and private citizens -- come together in the streets of Seattle and the halls of power to try to be heard.

Is it any good?


BATTLE IN SEATTLE is a great demonstration of how good intentions don't necessarily translate into good moviemaking; for all the scenes that are thought-provoking or emotionally real, others feel preachy or phony. But the balance skews more to the film's credit than not, and writer/director Stuart Townsend's ambition and passion help keep the movie alive in even its more problematic moments. He attracted a well-known group of faces to pitch in: Martin Henderson, Andre Benjamin, and Michelle Rodriguez play protestors; Ray Liotta is the city's beleaguered mayor; Woody Harrelson and Charlize Theron play a Seattle cop and his pregnant wife. The ensemble is fine (with Harrelson the stand out), but some of the actors aren't given as much to work with; Connie Nielsen's reporter character is given a particularly unreal scene of public protest, while the plotline following Rade Sherbedzija's AIDS doctor, who's seeking reductions in the cost for medicine for the Third World, never quite follows through.

Still, even mildly marred by the occasional false note, Battle in Seattle is well intentioned and well made, and it seems to be more interested in inspiring discussion than having all the answers. Benjamin's character notes of the protests that "A week ago, nobody knew what the World Trade Organization was; now ... they still don't know what it is, but at least they know it's bad. " Battle in Seattle feels designed to provoke and inspire, and if it doesn't always succeed in that aim, at the very least it tries.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the many social, political, and economic topics that the film raises, from concerns about corporate control of the media to the environmental ramifications of modern industry. Families can also discuss whether a film like this is made to provide answers or provoke questions. Do you think the filmmakers are playing favorites in their arguments and scenes? Is it OK for movies based on real-life events to have a particular bias toward one "side" or the other?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 17, 2008
DVD release date:March 10, 2009
Cast:Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Woody Harrelson
Director:Stuart Townsend
Studio:Redwood Palms Pictures
Run time:98 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language and some violence.

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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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