Percy Vs Goliath tells the true tale of a Canadian farmer who duels with Big Business after genetically-modified crops disrupt his pastoral life. Seed cultivation is this farmer’s lifeblood. When storm clouds arrive in the opening scene – during church, setting up a helluva metaphorical forecast – the farm is the only salvation he wishes to preserve. Later, once Percy picks up his sling as he prepares for battle, the future of farming becomes his ministry.
Unlike the holy crusade in Erin Brockovich, or the desire for truth as shown in The Insider, Percy is not looking to become a mythical spokesperson. He simply wants to farm. Yet, similar to David in his biblical battle, he finds himself anointed.
Percy Vs Goliath is a simple story told in a big way, yet remains fully grounded as an underdog story with its eventual victory firmly planted in the earth.
Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) is a farmer whose family stretches back to tending fields in the Old World. And he loves his seeds. He takes the best of last year’s crop and like farmers have done since Christopher Columbus first started to float, cultivates those seeds, growing them to their potential. What he did not know, at least not willingly, was that his seeds had mixed with patented GMO product from big, bad agro corp Monsanto. Schmeiser reaped the benefits. And upon discovery of such, Monsanto takes him to court. To prevent losing his farm, Schmeiser fights back. With the help, albeit alongside a little self-serving manipulation, from Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci), an activist from DC, Schmeiser realizes that his fight is not purely one of his own survival but for all of farming against genetically modified crops.
This polite Canadian movie seeks to elicit the beating heart of the good, everyman. Humble at times. Eye-opening when required. Clark Johnson works to elevate the movie with a classic indie feel. Tight, contemplative moments in dark, dusty barns are coupled with the bright, sweeping landscapes of Manitoba and Mumbai. Percy has an elegant, polished feel. Especially noteworthy is when Schmeiser travels to India to speak at a conference. Colors explode everywhere. From the browns of the earth to the vibrant pastels of the passing-by sarees. While back home in Canada, the feel is used, warm, and comfortable.
Johnson, a TV veteran, is also too quick in rushing over the punchline of a set up joke or brushing past a moment of human suspense. In focusing on the compressed timeline of events, any expressed freedom of the actors becomes an edited afterthought. He presents Christopher Walken in all his glory but has hidden the cow bell.
Christopher Walken gives a fine Walken-ian performance. Surprisingly, Walken has truly embraced the role of the elder statesman. He becomes a grandpa with his subdued flannel and an old man belly and it is good.
Walken, along with Johnson and writers Garfield Miller and Hilary Pryor, plant Schmeiser’s role as a reluctant hero. He is a quiet man and when he does speak, such sentiments come from his heart. His speeches come naturally as does his comfort with his wife (Roberta Maxwell), his apprehension with Rebecca, all the while dealing with his quirky lawyer (Zach Braff, channelling his best Ray Romano).
Composer Steven MacKinnon provides a beautiful score that moves between a folksy country vibe to hip, South Asian beats. From slide guitars to sitars, MacKinnon’s music is perfectly complementary; never melodramatic.
Johnson does not make his movie a legal drama ala The Rainmaker. In fact, the courtroom scenes are all rather brief, and aside from Monsanto’s lead lawyer, the corporate cartoon villains are rather anonymous. Instead, Percy’s internal struggles are focused upon the reality of losing his farm and that his only heir has passed on the heritage. Shifting the thematic focus from an entity to an ideal is what separates Percy’s crop from forgettable streaming chaff.
As nice as the movie looks, and as refreshingly positive the story becomes, there is not enough meat to make this a fully satisfying meal.