PERCY VS GOLIATH movie poster | ©2021 Saban Films

PERCY VS GOLIATH movie poster | ©2021 Saban Films

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Christopher Walken, Roberta Maxwell, Christina Ricci, Zach Braff, Martin Donovan, Peter Stebbings, Luke Kirby
Writers: Garfield L. Miller and Hilary Pryor
Director: Clark Johnson
Distributor: Saban Films
Release Date: April 30, 2021

PERCY VS GOLIATH is a diverting, folksy courtroom drama. It is based on a real court case, against the food and chemical giant Monsanto, no less. That aspect alone holds interest.

The real Percy Schmeiser seems to have been a fairly different sort of person than he’s depicted here, as played by Christopher Walken. Looking up basic facts about him online suggests that he wasn’t the shy, taciturn fellow of PERCY VS GOLIATH.

Reality and the film do converge in that, in 1998, Percy Schmeiser is a canola-growing farmer in Bruno, Saskatchewan. His wife is the loyal Louise (Roberta Maxwell).

The farm, and the profession of farming, have been in Percy’s family for generations. Percy prides himself on how he cultivates and selects seeds. He is therefore astonished and offended when he gets a bill from Monsanto. The corporation claims that seeds with their patented DNA are on Percy’s land, so he owes them for the seeds and the crop.

Percy never bought seeds from Monsanto, although he acknowledges they could have gotten into his fields from another farmer’s truck spill, or just borne on the wind. Not wanting to pay the $10,000 Monsanto demands, Percy hires understandably nervous lawyer Jackson Weaver (Zach Braff) to represent him in the ensuing court case.

This draws the attention of an environmentalist group with the apt acronym PEP. Its main representative, the likewise peppy activist Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci), tells the skeptical Percy that he can make money from donations if he does speaking engagements.

Directed by Clark Johnson and scripted by Garfield L. Miller and Hilary Pryor, PERCY VS GOLIATH will have many viewers instinctively rooting for Percy. Walken is warm, likable and the soul of decency here. Maxwell, an award-winning stage actress, is a perfect match for him as Louise. We believe Percy’s dedication to farming traditions, and in the couple’s dedication to each other.

The filmmakers go out of their way to point out places and circumstances where Monsanto has actually helped communities. At the same time, they are able to convey a quiet sense of outrage at what unfolds throughout the film.

What may be most surprising is that they don’t have even one character yelling about what seems like perhaps the most egregious aspect of what’s being discussed here. Monsanto sells the weed killer Roundup, which is not only toxic, but dangerous to crops that don’t possess Monsanto’s lab-created DNA. Then Monsanto makes the legal assumption that if farmers have surviving crops, those crops have thrived only because they’ve got Monsanto product in them. It’s a bit like a witch trial by drowning; if they go under, they may be innocent, but if they live, they must be breaking the law.

There are still plenty of points made, including the global nature of the issue. At one point, Percy goes to India for a conference, where locals and African farmers talk about their various concerns. We also get a good look at what can happen in a small community when a respected member bucks the norms.

Director Johnson and his cast keep things pleasingly low-key. We’re intrigued throughout, without feeling like we’re being lectured (even when we are). For those who like legal little-guy-fights-monolith movies, especially those who’d like to learn a little more about the legalities of our food, PERCY VS GOLIATH should be very satisfying.

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