Percy Vs Goliath


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Percy Vs Goliath
"Hollywood loves this kind of figure and occasionally this film falls into the familiar trap of overplaying his heroics, but Walken himself is solid throughout."

There's a moment early on in Clark Johnson's politically-tinged drama when Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) is out in the fields with his granddaughter Mary (Zoe Fish) and tells her a story she has heard many times before: about how the seeds they use were smuggled over from the old World in the seams of a dress. It's a story that goes right to the heart of debates over the difference between traditionally guided evolution and direct genetic modification. Although arguments for the latter never really get their due here, what is illustrated very clearly is the futility of trying to keep any form of genetic change entirely under human control.

The story depicted here is a real one, and Walken is a fascinating choice for the central role. The real Percy, who died in 2020, was a quiet man who hated publicity but did it anyway, first because it seemed to be the only way he could fund his court case and later because he realised how important it was for farmers around the world who had even less power than he did. Hollywood loves this kind of figure and occasionally this film falls into the familiar trap of overplaying his heroics, but Walken himself is solid throughout, with none of the dramatics we have come to associate with his characters. It's a great chance for him to remind viewers of what he's capable of.

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The court case that Percy deals with is thrust upon him when agricultural giant Monsanto alleges that he has stolen canola (rapeseed) with a patented gene of theirs, which has been found growing on his land. Percy alleges that it blew there and he couldn't be held responsible, but the case becomes more complicated when it emerges that he saved some of the seed because those plants were doing well. Selective seed saving is a long-established technique and this small time farmer argues that he was simply doing what he has always done, but his livelihood is on the line as costs rise and it becomes clear that, compared to him, the corporation essentially has unlimited resources.

Hopping on board when the opportunity presents itself is Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci, also cast against type and very good), an environmental activist whose organisation is concerned about the effects of GMOs more widely. Percy immediately takes a dislike to her and it's evident that their agendas differ, but her involvement pushes him to take on hew things, including travelling to a farmers' conference in India. This gives the film room to explore the common experiences shared by those who work the land on different continents, and to illustrate that, despite the stereotypes, being a farmer does not mean being unintelligent or lacking interest in other cultures. There's also a suggestion here that agricultural workers worldwide have much more in common with each other than with those working for the corporate giants which increasingly dominate their industry.

With a title which alludes to the documentary about Percy made in 2009 (David Versus Monsanto), Johnson's film strives to keep it real. It doesn't always succeed, but it emotive arc will pull in a lot of viewers who never imagined themselves being interested in hat the law has to say about seeds, and the impressive performances make it engaging throughout.

Reviewed on: 30 Apr 2021
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A Canadian farmer takes on a giant corporation after its GMOs interfere with his crops.
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Director: Clark Johnson

Writer: Garfield Lindsay Miller, Hilary Pryor

Starring: Christopher Walken, Roberta Maxwell, Pathy Aiyar, Zach Braff, Christina Ricci

Year: 2020

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Canada


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