It’s sad to say but there aren’t enough meaty roles out there for actors and actresses past a certain age. And unfortunately that means there are certain kinds of stories that simply aren’t being told. It’s a shame considering the wealth of incredibly talented performers this crappy trend ignores and the missed opportunities at exploring an often untapped segment of the human experience. That’s one reason it’s such a treat whenever a movie like “Percy vs. Goliath” comes around.
This biographical drama from director Clark Johnson sees 78-year-old screen legend Christopher Walken playing 73-year-old Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer best known for his headline-grabbing court battle with the multinational agrichemical company Monsanto during the late 1990s. This textbook David vs. Goliath story saw a modest lifelong farmer reluctantly become an international inspiration and spokesman for independent farmers rights. The screenplay by Garfield Lindsay Miller and Hilary Pryor hits all of the story’s high points, especially regarding the prolonged legal wrangling. As a result the more emotional elements don’t quite get the attention they deserve.
Walken is a natural fit for Percy, a proud and earnest canola grower who farms land that has been in his family for generations. He’s what you would call a seed-saver which essentially means he saves seeds from his successful harvests to use in future seasons. It’s the way his father farmed and his grandfather before him. But one day Percy is notified of a court order allowing representatives from agro giant Monsanto to take samples from his fields. They find traces of their own manufactured gene in his crops and end up suing him for patent infringement.
Percy hires local lawyer Jackson Weaver (Zach Braff) to handle his defense but they quickly learn it’s going to be an uphill battle. Monsanto’s team of bullish attorneys led by Martin Donovan use their client’s limitless resources to add both public and financial pressure. As the case picks up traction with the media, Percy is approached by an opportunistic environmentalist named Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci). She encourages him to go public which is far from Percy’s style. “Getting his drivers license photo is too much limelight for him,” says his gentle and loving wife Louise (a wonderful Roberta Maxwell) who really is the heart of film.
Soon Rebecca has Percy at speaking engagements, on television talk shows, even flying to India. A true grassroots defense springs up with checks and letters of encouragement coming in from farmers around the world who were forced to settle with Monsanto. Johnson’s film focuses just as much on Percy shedding his pride and seeking the help from others as it does the actual courtroom drama.
Unfortunately some of the story details fall through the cracks. There’s clearly some tension between Percy and his bitter and disgruntled son Peter (Luke Kirby) but it never gets touched. The movie acknowledges their rift but never gets into the root cause. We also get a handful of brief scenes referencing how Monsanto’s campaign to vilify Percy turns the local community against him. But the scenes are brief and leave a lot of potentially fertile dramatic ground unplowed (how’s that for a beautifully bad pun).
Still, there’s a lot of inspiration in the movie and particularly in Walken’s performance. He grounds Percy Schmeiser in a way that gives us an vivid image of a proud, honest man who through circumstances outside of his control becomes a reluctant hero to many around the globe. He’s an easy character to root for especially in these current days. So much more of Percy’s personal life is left begging to be explored, but the film gives us enough to gain a good understanding of how the little man can be strategically and methodically squashed by big corporate power. And as you watch this little man fight back you can’t help but be encouraged. “Percy vs. Goliath” opens today (April 30th) in theaters and on VOD.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS